Twelve Indian ministers resign over reshuffle

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New Delhi (AFP)

Twelve Indian ministers resigned on Wednesday after a catastrophic spike in Covid-19 cases earlier this year, including the Minister of Health.

The resignations are part of a comprehensive reshuffle by Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the seven state elections in 2022.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, 66, was particularly criticized during the surge in infections in April and May.

Health care was under severe pressure in many places as hospitals ran out of beds, medical oxygen and medicines.

The Covid-19 explosion has been attributed to new variants of the virus and the government, which allowed mass religious and political gatherings in January, February and March.

Modi declared victory over the virus in January, and critics say his government failed to use the time to prepare the historically underfunded healthcare system for another wave.

India’s official death toll has risen from around 160,000 at the end of March to more than 400,000 now, the third highest number in the world.

But many experts suspect that if the cause of death was under-counted and incorrectly recorded, the actual number of deaths could be many times higher.

– Elections –

Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Law, Justice and Information Technology, has also resigned after a message from the President’s office.

However, 66-year-old Prasad, a close ally of Modi, should get an important role in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the state elections, press reports say.

Elections will be held in seven Indian states next year, six of which are currently governed by the BJP. These include Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, Gujarat, and Punjab.

At the beginning of the year, the BJP suffered a severe setback when it failed to wrest power in the important eastern state of West Bengal from a high-profile critic of Modi.

Some commentators said this was a reflection of Modi’s declining popularity due to his handling of the pandemic. However, the BJP kept Assam in the northeast.

– Twitter spat –

Prasad has been embroiled in a bitter dispute with foreign social media companies in recent months.

His ministry penned rule changes requiring companies to remove and identify the “first author” from positions that undermine India’s sovereignty, state security or public order.

Social media companies and data protection activists fear that the ambiguity of the rules could be forced to identify the authors of posts critical of the government.

WhatsApp questions the rules in court, fearing it will have to break its encryption system that prevents anyone other than the sender and recipient from reading messages.

The argument has been sharpest on Twitter, as the microblogging site does not appoint a permanent compliance officer based in India.

In May, Indian police visited the Delhi and Gurgaon Twitter offices after the company labeled tweets from the BJP’s national spokesman as “manipulated media”.

Twitter responded by accusing the government of “intimidating” tactics.

Prasad then temporarily blocked his Twitter account after posting a video with music that violated US copyright law.

He called the move a “gross violation” and said it showed his “call to the arbitrariness and arbitrariness of Twitter … clearly disheveled”.

Other resignations include Prakash Javadekar, Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, and Information, Broadcasting and Heavy Industry.

Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank also resigned.

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