Mandaviya will have to ensure that the ramped-up vaccination drive goes smoothly and the government is spared the blushes.
Mansukh Mandaviya takes over the Union health ministry at a critical juncture. On the one hand, the government is ramping up its Covid-19 vaccination drive; on another, it is preparing its strategy to stave off or limit the impact of an impending third wave of the virus. As the Narendra Modi government embarked on a large-scale reshuffle of the Union Cabinet, among the most significant exits was that of health minister Harsh Vardhan, who was leading the charge in India’s battle against Covid-19.
Now, the baton has fallen to the Parliamentarian from Gujarat, a veterinary doctor with a Masters’ degree in political science. Mandaviya began his work early, even before his predecessor had put in his papers. In the past week, Mandaviya visited the facilities of three vaccine-makers — Zydus and Bharat Biotech in Ahmedabad and Serum Institute of India in Pune, albeit in his capacity as the minister of state for chemicals and fertiiizers.
Last month, the government announced a course correction, taking over supply of vaccines from states. Mandaviya will have to ensure that the ramped-up vaccination drive goes smoothly and the government is spared the blushes. With a few more vaccines in the pipeline for India, Mandaviya may find vaccinating the entire population a lot easier than his predecessor.
Doctors and health experts have already warned of a third Covid-19 wave in the next few months if adequate precautions were not taken. Madaviya, who first rose to all-India fame for riding his bicycle to Parliament, will have to preside over that strategy as well. His long stint with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) means that he has a sound knowledge of doing work on the ground, something that is expected to hold him in good stead.
Among the seven ministers promoted to the Cabinet, Mandaviya became Gujarat’s youngest MLA at 28 years when he entered the Assembly in 2002. He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 2012 before being re-elected in 2018. He became minister of state for road transport and highways, shipping in 2016 and then chemical and fertilizers. He has also served as chairman of Gujarat Agro Industries Corporation.
Born in a middle-class farmer family in Hanol, a small village in Saurashtra’s Palitana taluka, Mandaviya is known to undertake padyatras, covering long distances for various awareness drives. The first padyatra that he organised was as an MLA in 2005, walking 123 km through 45 backward villages to advocate girls’ education. He undertook another week-long padyatra in 2017 to promote the ideology of Mahatma Gandhi. He has also received a Unicef honour for his contribution to women’s menstrual hygiene. History will judge him on how he manages the fight against a deadly pandemic that has already taken over 4 lakh lives.