The much awaited reshuffle of the Union Cabinet is likely to take place ahead of the second anniversary of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. The rejig could see a change in portfolios of a number of ministers including those who are considered to be the Big Four. Simultaneously, there could be a few changes in the Bharatiya Janata Party set up as well and a new team of office bearers and members of the National Executive compatible with the style of functioning of both Amit Shah and Prime Minister Modi could be in place. The complexion of the Cabinet and the party may reflect the need of the hour for the crucial Assembly elections to be held next year. In political terms, there could be more faces from Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state, which sent 71 BJP MPs to the Lok Sabha in 2014.
The exact date of the exercise is being kept a closely guarded secret, though there is speculation in some quarters that it could take place for strategic reasons to coincide with the declaration of results of the ongoing Assembly elections. There are indications that most of the Cabinet probables and current ministers have been informally advised to be in the capital from 18 May onwards. The Parliament session will end in the coming week and the poll results will be declared on 19 May. The second anniversary of the government is on 26 May.
Sources stated that the Prime Minister has been evaluating the performance of his team and has virtually made up his mind on the names of those likely to be inducted in his ministry as well as those who would be dropped. Some of the ministers are likely to be sent to the party for organisational work or could be given gubernatorial assignments. While there has been a conjecture in the Sangh circles regarding Amit Shah being accommodated in the Cabinet, it seems unlikely that Modi would settle in for someone as his replacement given the good chemistry and understanding between the two.
There is also anxiety in the Sangh Parivar over the stratification of Hindu society leading to the polarisation amongst various castes. The worry extends to developments in Haryana where Jats are agitated and in Gujarat where Patels feel that they have been getting a raw deal despite being the backbone of the BJP in the state. There would, therefore, be constant pressure on Modi to address the problems, particularly in his home state where elections would be held later next year. The solution may lie in getting some prominent Patel face in either the government or in the party.
There is extreme speculation that some of the BJP Chief Ministers could find a berth in the Union Cabinet as they would bring in both experience and knowledge essential for fulfilling the promise of good governance. Politically, of course, it would suit Modi to have some of the high profile Chief Ministers to report directly to him in his ministry. Thus it would not be a matter of surprise if either Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chouhan or Raman Singh are summoned to the capital
There is a proposal under consideration of the Prime Minister for inducting a technocrat or an expert in key portfolios to give a push to reforms as well as to streamline the overall functioning of the ministry. Rajnath Singh appears to be secure in the Ministry of Home Affairs, as shifting him would not be seen in the right light in his home state, UP. It is well known that Arun Jaitley is considered the closest to Modi in the Cabinet and thus would have the option of either continuing in his present portfolio or acquiring a ministry which he desires. Sushma Swaraj is a prominent woman face and was the Leader of Opposition in the last Lok Sabha. She appears to be most vulnerable amongst the big four, since Modi recently complimented Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar for his speech in the Lok Sabha on the Agusta Westland scandal, thus indirectly expressing his satisfaction on his performance.
Sources said that a question mark hangs over the continuation of Najma Hepatullah as she has crossed the 75 years age limit like her colleague Kalraj Mishra. Mishra, however, could get a fresh lease of life due to elections in UP next year as he is a credible Brahmin face there. M. Venkaiah Naidu, whose lavish praise of Modi might have embarrassed the Prime Minister, is another one who could face the axe. His Rajya Sabha term is coming to an end and he could be sent as Governor of one of the southern states like Tamil Nadu. Nirmala Sitharaman’s Rajya Sabha tenure is also coming to a close and she is being considered for another term from Bihar or Jharkhand.
The Prime Minister, it appears, is content with the functioning of both Nitin Gadkari and Suresh Prabhu, who are unlikely to be affected by the revamp exercise, unless one of them is picked for a bigger role in the government. Gadkari is a favourite of the RSS and is handling the Ministry of Surface Transport and Highways in an efficient manner, while Prabhu’s record in Railways has been commendable.
The complexion of the party after the re-organisation would also indicate whether the RSS has had any role to play in it. The Sangh has always had interest in the party affairs, demonstrated by the induction of its nominees in key roles. Therefore, as a consequence, the party set-up, which had not received adequate attention, would be closely monitored by the Sangh bosses in Nagpur. The recast of the organisation would further pave the way for the ratification of Amit Shah’s election by the National Council or at a plenary session. The hopeful aspirants for the inclusion in the ministry or the government meanwhile are waiting in suspense.