Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday appointed new federal ministers for health, IT and oil as part of a reshuffle in a bid to reinvigorate his government amid fierce criticism of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Modi appointed Mansukh Laxman Mandaviya as the country’s new health minister just hours after Harsh Vardhan, who was the face of the government’s efforts to fight COVID-19, was asked to step down along with his deputy.
Official sources said Vardhan had to pay the political price for the government’s struggles to cope with a devastating second wave of coronavirus infections.
Modi’s government has faced sharp criticism for the chaotic rollout of a nationwide immunisation campaign that experts say had worsened the impact of the second-wave, killing hundreds of thousands.
The official death toll after a surge in COVID-19 infections in April and May passed 400,000 last week. Experts believe the actual number may be much higher and there are fears of a third wave soon. Millions remain unvaccinated.
Mandaviya, who belongs to Modi’s home state Gujarat, was previously a junior minister holding the portfolios for ports and chemicals and fertilisers.
Several members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were sworn in at the presidential palace to replace 12 ministers that were fired in the first cabinet reshuffle since Modi was re-elected in 2019 on a promise to transform India into a political and economic power.