Cabinet Expansion: The buzz around a cabinet expansion was preceded by a reshuffle in gubernatorial postings, leading to another vacancy in the Council of Ministers
Latest developments, including Union minister Thaawarchand Gehlot’s appointment as Karnataka governor, have fuelled speculations that a Cabinet reshuffle/ expansion is on the cards.
The speculations were further fueled by meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national president Jagat Prakash Nadda on Tuesday. There was also some movement in state units of the party, with several notable leaders reportedly having left for Delhi in a rush.
Furthermore, the cancellation of a scheduled Cabinet meet and the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) also strengthened speculations that the BJP top brass could announce a final decision by evening.
News agency PTI also reported on the developments, noting that the first Cabinet reshuffle in Modi’s second term would be made to make the Council of Ministers more representative.
Incidentally, top RSS brass, including its chief Mohan Bhagwat and joint general secretaries Krishna Gopal and Manmohan Vaidya, was also in the city for the last few days. The BJP has often factored in the feedback from the RSS in its key decisions.
What could the new Cabinet look like?
Multiple sources told PTI that the reshuffle is likely to take place on Wednesday evening. But there has been no official word on it.
Yet, BJP leaders Sarbananda Sonowal, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Shobha Karandlaje, and Narayan Rane, all of whom are being seen as probables for induction as ministers in the Modi government, arrived in the national capital on Tuesday.
Names of Bhupender Yadav, Anil Baluni, Sudhanshu Trivedi are also doing the rounds while BJP MPs Sushil Modi, Ashwini Vaishnav and GVL Narasimha Rao are also being mentioned as probables.
BJP general secretary (organisation) BL Santhosh met party president JP Nadda in the evening. Former Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje also met Santhosh.
JD(U) leader RCP Singh and LJP’s Pashupati Kumar Paras, both of whom are expected to represent the BJP’s allies in the government, also reached New Delhi from Bihar. All of them remained tight-lipped to queries about their possibility of joining the government.
Rane told reporters that he had not received any call about his joining the government.
Leaders of the LJP faction headed by Paras said he had received a call from Home Minister Amit Shah on Monday but claimed that it was related to the birth anniversary of party founder Ram Vilas Paswan.
Representation of BJP MPs from West Bengal and the North East may go up.
Another BJP ally All India Jharkhand Students Union may also get a berth, reports said as the BJP looks to boost its partners’ representation in the ministry after its old allies like Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal severed their ties with it.
Ramadas Athavale, a junior minister, is the only BJP ally in the government as of now.
The current strength of the Council of Ministers is 53, including Modi, and its maximum number can be 81.
What’s with the timing?
The exercise comes against the backdrop of a massive review, which has stretched for weeks, undertaken by the BJP top brass of the works of Union ministers and the organisation against the backdrop of the pandemic.
A BJP leader told PTI that the reshuffle is expected to be a “big shake-up” with Modi addressing political challenges, including electoral politics, general performance, organisational work done by members, and governance issues.
The pandemic that has been a factor in the internal evaluation of the party’s governance and source of much criticism for the Centre and the state governments may have created the need to bring in fresh faces to spur a narrative change and to boost performance.
The shake-up becomes relevant especially in the backdrop of Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Punjab due early next year.
Sources also said the expansion will try to accommodate representatives from as many states as possible as well as sub-regions in large states such as Purvanchal and Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh, and the Konkan and western regions in Maharashtra. The reshuffle will also aim to strike a social balance making sure key communities that contribute to BJP’s vote bank are well-represented, with sources saying special emphasis will be on OBC and Dalit communities.
Furthermore, the expansion was also a long-awaited exercise, in view of the recent posts getting vacated on various accounts.
LJP leader and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, who was the Cabinet Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, passed away in October 2020. Minister of State for Railways Suresh Angadi also passed away in September last year, which created another vacancy in the number of ministers of states as well.
Arvind Sawant (Shiv Sena), and Harsimrat Kaur Badal (Shiromani Akali Dal) were also representatives of NDA allies in the Union Cabinet when the Modi 2.0 government returned to power in 2019 but all of them resigned following differences with the BJP.
That and the government’s decision to create a new Ministry of Cooperation with an aim to strengthen the cooperative movement in the country, has warranted fresh recruitments in the Council of ministers.
Apart from reshuffle and appointment of new faces to vacant Cabinet seats, a minister in charge of the new portfolio may be named on Wednesday.
The ministry will work to streamline processes for ‘ease of doing business’ for cooperatives and enable the development of multi-state cooperatives (MSCS), it said. The creation of a separate Ministry for Cooperation also fulfils the budget announcement made by the finance minister.
What do the precedents suggest?
The reshuffles undertaken by Modi so far, all in his first term, have also seen some ministers being dropped or removed from key portfolios on account of their performance.
The prime minister has also sprung surprises in the past by inducting those with apolitical backgrounds, like S Jaishankar and Hardeep Singh Puri, as ministers.
The prime minister may go for new faces with an eye on grooming younger leaders while also factoring in caste and regional balances. There is also a buzz about Modi inducting some professionals and those with domain expertise besides bringing in more women.
A party source said it is likely to be a “big shakeup” and members of the party organisation may be brought in the government.
With Gehlot set to quit as an MP after becoming governor, his departure will also leave the key post of the leader of the House in Rajya Sabha vacant. It will leave one more position vacant in the BJP’s Parliamentary Board, the party’s apex body, where he is the only Dalit leader.
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