Rajya Sabha MP Mansukh Mandaviya was on Wednesday sworn in as the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare. The two-time MP took charge on Thursday morning, replacing Dr Harsh Vardhan. The appointment assumes greater significance coming as it comes against the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Twelve top ministers, including Harsh Vardhan, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Prakash Javadekar were dropped from the Cabinet during the expansion exercise that took place on Wednesday.
Over the last few months as India was left reeling under a record-setting second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Opposition leaders had repeatedly hit out at the Health Minister and the Narendra Modi-led government. More recently, India's vaccination program had also become a topic of contention.
"The resignations of the Union Health Minister and the MoS Health is a candid confession that the Modi government has utterly failed in managing the pandemic," Congress leader P Chidambaram said recently.
With many experts contending that there will soon be a third wave to contend with, Mandaviya, who is called Union Home Minister Amit Shah's right hand man in some circles, will now have to hit the ground running. "Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given me the responsibility of the Health Ministry. I will work in accordance with PM Modi's expectations," the newly appointed Minister told the media after taking charge.
But if the current situation is any indication, Mandaviya faces an uphill task. With many convinced that the exit of Dr Harsh Vardhan was "a huge testament" to the government's "poor handling" of the COVID-19 pandemic, all eyes are now Mandaviya to see how he handles the same scenario. With India looking to vaccinate all adults by the end of the year, it will also fall (at least in part) upon the Health Minister to ensure that the country's inoculation drive is ramped up.
The Rajya Sabha MP was previously the Minister of State (Independent Charge) of Ports, Shipping and Waterways and is now also the Union Minister for Chemical and Fertilisers in the Modi government. He has studied veterinary science and later completed his master's degree in political science.
There are also many who remain unconvinced about how suitable he is for the role of Health Minister. Over the last few hours, old tweets by the Health Minister have gone viral for all the wrong reasons, with many sarcastic rejoinders about how India was now "in safe hands" with reference to the pandemic.
But with mere hours having gone by since he took charge, it is undoubtedly too early to tell whether the rejig will help India's fight against COVID-19 (or other health-related concerns).