In a gesture to his coalition partners, Prime Minister Narendra Modi could embark on another Cabinet revamp exercise in order to accommodate Bharatiya Janata Party’s allies. The Shiv Sena, one of the oldest partners of the party, has already expressed its disappointment with the ministry expansion on 3 September and has taken great pains to clarify that the reshuffle was solely confined to the BJP and should be viewed in this light.
It is evident that the Prime Minister’s rejig was aimed at bringing in some fresh faces and promoting those whom he considered efficient. His entire focus was on his own party, and therefore, it was a conscious decision to leave out the allies for some other day. An intuitive and insightful politician, PM Modi wanted to utilise this opportunity to send clear signals within the Sangh Parivar regarding his pecking order, as well as to drive home the point that he expected cent per cent loyalty from his ministers.
The Cabinet shake-up was part of a larger game plan, which includes changes within the BJP organisation as well as appointments of new Governors, ambassadors and other key functionaries. The reshuffle helped in reiterating the perception that both party chief Amit Shah and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley were pivotal players in implementing Modi’s overall vision for the country.
The BJP National Executive is slated to meet on 25 September to mark the celebrations of the late Bharatiya Jana Sangh president and ideologue, Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s birth centenary. There is speculation that the party set up could also witness some changes prior to the conclave, especially since strictly going by the BJP’s constitution, the list of office bearers and members of the working committee needs to be redrawn.
Therefore, so far the Prime Minister’s primary concern has been to keep his party in a ready state, what with the Gujarat and Himachal elections coming up before this year is out and the Karnataka elections due in the first half of 2018. However, the allies are not pleased at being left out of the revamp manoeuvre and expect to be accommodated, even though the BJP, on its own steam, has a simple majority in the Lok Sabha; commanding a strength of 282 in a House of 545. The thesis is that the BJP is the largest constituent of the National Democratic Alliance, which at present comprises 27 parties.
It is in this context that the allies have been pushing for a larger share in the Council of Ministers. Previous to the last exercise, there was widespread conjecture that the Janata Dal (United), the latest entrant in the NDA would certainly find a few slots in the Union Council of Ministers, given that it had assisted the BJP in adding the state of Bihar to its growing empire. The JDU has two Lok Sabha members and seven members in the Rajya Sabha and thereby was eyeing a key portfolio at the Centre. However, on being totally ignored, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar did convey his dissatisfaction to the BJP leadership. Nitish Kumar, who was Minister for Railways in the Atal Behari Vajpayee Cabinet, when in February 2002, the Godhra incident took place, was hoping that his party would be granted the same portfolio or something as significant. Obviously, he did not figure that the Prime Minister’s style of functioning was different from that of Vajpayee and thus to expect him to give priority to the allies was not consistent with the new way of working.
Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray was similarly taken aback and yet covered up his disillusionment by stating that his party was “not hungry for power”. The Sena has 18 MPs and would have been satisfied had it been granted an additional Cabinet berth. The fact of the matter is that since this has not happened, the Sena has made feeble attempts to explain to its supporters that the reshuffle exercise both on 3 September and on an earlier occasion were merely confined to the BJP.
Like Shiv Sena, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), whose representative Ashok Gajapati Raju is the Civil Aviation Minister, was also eyeing another ministry. The Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Chandrababu Naidu has not openly spoken out, but those close to him are convinced that his silence on the matter reflects his disappointment.
The Shiromani Akali Dal, which with the BJP administered Punjab for a decade, was equally eager to expand its slots in the Central government. At present, Harsimrat Kaur, daughter-in-law of former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, is the sole Akali nominee in the Cabinet.
Sources claimed that PM Modi had consciously left out the allies this time around, as he expects the AIADMK and some others to come on board in the immediate future. Once he is able to get more parties in the NDA, he would look at the possibility of another reshuffle. He is currently measuring the strengths and weaknesses of different parties and accordingly would take an appropriate decision at an opportune time. He is equally keen to drive home the point that the BJP was not going to buckle under any pressure and thus would set the agenda as per its own political priorities.
However, there are powerful voices within the Sangh Parivar who have been in favour of Modi assuaging the hurt feelings of the allies by allocating some more positions. There are several ministers like Smriti Irani, Nitin Gadkari, Harsh Vardhan, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Piyush Goyal and Dharmendra Pradhan, who are holding multiple portfolios. Whether the Prime Minister yields to the requests of his associates is something he alone can answer.