Amid strong speculation about a Cabinet reshuffle that might happen as soon as this Saturday or Sunday, as many as eight Union ministers met BJP president Amit Shah on Thursday.
The reshuffle, most likely, will take place before Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves for China to take part in the BRICS summit that starts on 3 September. Due to “inauspicious period” of “Shradh”, which will start from 5 September and go on until 19 September, the reshuffle, if it does not happen this week, will be put off until the end of September.
The reshuffle, the third and most probably the final one before the 2019 general election, is likely to see key changes, with some of the heavyweight ministries like Defence, External Affairs and Health witnessing a change of guard.
BJP party sources said that the reshuffle—which has been necessitated because of various reasons including the movement of former Union ministers to states, ministers being given new responsibilities and the upcoming Assembly elections in various states—will be the last such exercise before the country goes to the polls in May 2019. The Ministry of Defence, which is presently with Arun Jaitley, who is also handling the Ministry of Finance, is likely to be given to an existing minister, who will be divested of his existing responsibility.
The same was confirmed by Jaitley on Thursday while answering reporters on how long he would continue as Defence Minister. Jaitley said, “At least I hope not very long.”
Party sources said that all the names that will be either included, dropped or whose ministry will be changed, have been finalized almost.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, who has voluntarily expressed to resign, might be dropped. However, party sources said that the fact that he was not keeping well will be the primary reason for him being relieved of his duty rather than his “poor performance” as the Opposition has been accusing him of. The PM believes that Prabhu is doing excellent work despite not getting required support from the bureaucrats.
In the last one week, at least six ministers, including Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who is Union Minister of State Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (Independent Charge), with “files of achievements” in their hands have individually met Amit Shah to apprise him of the work that they have done ever since becoming minister.
“The concern among some ministers, especially those who are from Bihar, is that they will be dropped as there are too many faces from Bihar and that explains the reason behind leaders meeting the party president independently,” a party source said.
A very senior minister from Bihar who heads a crucial ministry is also likely to be dropped.
The party source said that there was little possibility of either Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan or Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh being asked to move to the Centre as there was no “strong” reason to do so. The two states go to the polls next year.
Among the ministries that are up for grabs include the Environment Ministry, which was being headed by Anil Madhav Dave before his untimely death, Defence Ministry and Textile Ministry which is with Smriti Irani who is also handling Information and Broadcasting.
Senior leader and Union Cabinet Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Kalraj Mishra is likely to be dropped and appointed as the Governor of Bihar, a post which has fallen vacant after Ram Nath Kovind moved into the President’s House.
Senior BJP leader and MP from Buxar, Ashwini Choubey, is almost certain to be included in the ministry and so is JDU Rajya Sabha MP RCP Singh, who is likely to be joined by Lok Sabha JDU MP Santosh Kushwaha.
Union Health Minister Jagat Prakash Nadda is likely to be asked to move to Himachal Pradesh and prepare for the Assembly elections that are due at the end of this year. He will be projected as the CM face for the saffron party in the hill state.
BJP’s national vice president, Prabhat Jha, who is a Rajya Sabha member from Madhya Pradesh, is also likely to be given a role in the Cabinet. Jha, whose name was dropped at the last moment from the first Cabinet list when the Modi government had won in May 2014—after an influential state leader had pushed for dropping him, giving Narendra Singh Tomar a space in the Cabinet—is likely to be rewarded for the role that he has played in strengthening the organisation in the state. Narendra Singh Tomar, according to party sources, might be dropped.