New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will undertake a revamp of the Union council of ministers on Sunday to fill key vacancies and bring in new faces with a thrust on merit and demands of realpolitik.
A cloud of uncertainty, however, hangs over the participation of the Bharatiya Janata Party allies like the Janata Dal-United and Shiv Sena in the reshuffle, the third since the National Democratic Alliance came to power in 2014, and chances of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam joining the government also appeared slim.
“There was no such talk of JD-U joining the Union Cabinet. No talks were held on the issue (between the BJP and JD-U),” Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, whose party JD-U recently rejoined the NDA, said in Patna.
BJP Chief Amit Shah returned to the capital today after attending a crucial coordination meeting with various Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh outfits in Vrindavan, and he and Modi were giving final touches to the changes.
More than half-a-dozen ministers are expected to make way for new faces in the reshuffle while portfolios of some could be changed.
Party leaders like Bhupender Yadav, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Prahlad Patel, Suresh Angadi, Satyapal Singh, Himanta Biswa Sarma, Anurag Thakur, Shobha Karandlaje, Maheish Girri and Prahlad Joshi are being talked about within the party as among the probable ministers.
Ashwini Choubey and Pravesh Verma, late BJP leader Sahib Singh’s son who called on Shah on Saturday, are also seen as contenders for the ministerial berths. Names of Andhra Pradesh BJP president K Hari Babu, who is an MP from Visakhapatnam, and senior party leader from Rajasthan Om Mathur are also doing the rounds.
Both Yadav and Sahasrabuddhe are key organisation leaders and Rajya Sabha members.
Patel is a seasoned Madhya Pradesh leader and Lok Sabha member. Joshi, Karandlaje and Angadi are Lok Sabha MPs from poll-bound Karnataka.
Singh and Verma are MPs from Baghpat in UP and West Delhi and come from politically influential Jat community. Thakur is son of former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and an MP from the state.
Sarma, a leader from Assam who has played a key role in BJP’s expansion in the Northeast, is presently not a member of Parliament.
Girri represents East Delhi in the Lok Sabha while Choubey is an MP from Bihar.
A party leader said the prime minister may spring a surprise with his choice of new faces and ministers in key portfolio like defence.
While carrying out the reshuffle, Modi is also likely to keep an eye on upcoming state elections in Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka and his party’s re-election bid in 2019.
Union ministers — Kalraj Mishra, Bandaru Dattatreya, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Sanjiv Kumar Balyan, Faggan Singh Kulaste and Mahendra Nath Pandey — had resigned on Friday ahead of the reshuffle.
Uma Bharti, too, had offered to resign but her fate remains in a balance amid speculation that there may be a few more exits.
Speculation swirled over the likely defence minister and names of Suresh Prabhu and Nitin Gadkari are doing the rounds.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is currently holding the additional charge of defence and he has already given indication that he would like to shed charge of the defence.
Internal troubles in the AIADMK, which has been hit by a rebellion led by T T V Dhinakaran, can prove to be a stumbling block in its joining the government.
AIADMK leader Thambidurai, who met Shah on Friday, might be a likely representative from the party along with P Venugopal and V Maitreyan if it decides to join the government. However, the southern party has not said anything so far.
Shiv Sena, the BJP ally in Maharashtra, has also spoken on similar lines with its chief Uddhav Thackeray saying he has received no information from the BJP.
“I have got news about the Cabinet expansion only from media. I have not enquired about it (from the central BJP leadership). I have neither received any communication from anybody nor are we hungry for power,” Thackeray told reporters in Mumbai.
After assuming office in May 2014, Modi expanded his council of ministers twice–first on November 9, 2014 and then on July 5, 2016.
Mishra, a veteran party leader from Uttar Pradesh, said he offered to resign from the cabinet two months back when he met the prime minister.
“I met the prime minister and said I have completed 76 years and I’m now running on 77, you can take any decision about me. He told me that you should meet the national president,” he said.
Mishra said the prime minister lauded his performance, adding that the question about non-performance does not arise in his case.
“A process has been set in motion for the swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan at around 10 am on Sunday,” a top government official had said on Friday.
Shah had met Modi on Friday and the two leaders are understood to have finalised the changes in the council of ministers.
Road Transport and Highways Minister Gadkari, seen as one of the more capable ministers, can be given more responsibility.
Railway Minister Prabhu, who had taken moral responsibility for a string of train accidents and indicated his willingness to resign, may be moved to another key ministry, party sources said.
Other incumbents, including Steel Minister Birender Singh, may be moved to other ministries.
Power Minister Piyush Goyal, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha are seen among the ‘good performers’ in the government, a party leader said, adding that some of them can be elevated.
The resignation of Manohar Parrikar and M Venkaiah Naidu from the Union Cabinet and the demise of Anil Dave had created three vacancies in the cabinet. Their portfolios were distributed among Jaitley, Narendra Singh Tomar, Smriti Irani and Harsh Vardhan.
The current strength of the council of ministers, including the prime minister, is 73 and the maximum number of ministers cannot go beyond 81.
According to a constitutional amendment, the limit cannot exceed beyond 15 per cent of the total strength of the Lok Sabha which is 545.