India's Health Minister Among Those Removed From Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Cabinet

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi removed 12 senior members of his cabinet Wednesday, amid widespread criticism for the government's handling of the pandemic.

Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan was among the officials who resigned hours ahead of the cabinet reshuffle. Vardhan's response to the COVID-19 pandemic has come under close scrutiny.

"In one clean sweep, you have senior ministers being removed," journalists and political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay told the Associated Press. "The government has admitted by these changes that it has failed miserably in handling the pandemic as it should have."

India has reported 400,000 coronavirus deaths, the third most of any country. Half of those have occurred over the past two months due to the spread of the Delta variant through the country's already strained health care system.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

India COVID
A doctor (R) checks health reports of a patient while a health worker inoculates a person with a dose of the Covishield vaccine against the Covid-19 coronavirus disease at the Kanaswadi Public Health Centre (PHC) on the outskirts of Bangalore on July 7, 2021. India's health minister resigned shortly before Prime Minister Narendra Modi dropped a dozen cabinet officials Wednesday amid criticism of the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP via Getty Images

Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Law and Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar were among those who also resigned.

Prasad was involved in a bitter row with Twitter over India's new internet regulations, which digital activists say could curtail online speech and privacy.

Fifteen Cabinet ministers and 28 junior ministers were sworn in by President Kovind at a ceremony in the presidential palace on Wednesday. Eight junior ministers were elevated to Cabinet rank.

The portfolios of the new ministers were expected to be announced later Wednesday or Thursday.

Modi retained Home Minister Amit Shah, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

It is the first Cabinet reshuffle since Modi was returned to power for a second term in 2019.

The reshuffle also came after the defeat of Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in April elections in key West Bengal state, a test of its handling of the pandemic.

Modi will face another major test of his popularity in legislative elections in Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Punjab and Uttarakhand states in February and March next year, which may prove to be a bellwether for his party's fate in the 2024 national elections.

Prime Minister Modi Cabinet
In this Nov. 11 2020, file photo, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves after a function at the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters following a state election in New Delhi, India. Twelve Indian government ministers resigned Wednesday, hours ahead of an expected reshuffle of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Cabinet aimed at refurbishing its image after widespread criticism of its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Manish Swarup/AP Photo