New Delhi: In what can be attributed to the ongoing corona crisis, the much-awaited Cabinet expansion of the Narendra Modi government is set to be deferred. Similarly, the first anniversary of the Modi government 2.0 on 30 May is also going to be a low key affair, with no big bash on the anvil. However, 31 May will be significant as PM Modi is going to speak in his “Mann Ki Baat” radio programme, which is keenly awaited from the point of view of the current lockdown. He is expected to come up with a crucial announcement regarding the lockdown and the future course of action against corona. Sources say the government is keeping the powder dry if lockdown is extended till 30 June.
The government will try and put everything on normal track in July, add sources. That’s the reason why the Prime Minister isn’t taking up any political assignment now, with the result that the decisions on Cabinet expansion and constitution of a new team of J.P. Nadda are on the back burner. According to sources, all such decisions are likely to be taken after the Bihar elections, only if there were no pressing compulsions to do that before the polls. However, speculation about some meetings for 28 May and 2 June are also rife. Fighting the corona continues to be the top priority for PM Modi. His measures and decisions aimed at fighting against the pandemic are being appreciated the world over. The BJP is working on a two-pronged strategy. One, it’s burning midnight oil to plug loopholes, if any, in the battle against the pandemic. Two, it’s looking at everything in a political perspective.
In fact, the Cabinet expansion was to be keeping in view the Bihar polls which are likely in October-November this year. BJP ally JDU had hinted at joining the government, which was a welcome development for the BJP that was looking for an opportunity to strengthen its alliance all the more following departure by the Shiv Sena. The offer of a Cabinet berth to anyone seeking to join hands with the ruling alliance was what the BJP was dangling before its prospective allies. The JJP in Haryana and Jagan’s outfit YSRC from Andhra Pradesh were to be given a chance to be in the government. In addition, Jyotiraditya Scindia, who joined BJP around two months ago, and young LJSP leader Chirag Paswan were hoping to get into the Cabinet.
However, the corona queered their pitch and with the epidemic not showing any sign of abatement for now, their wait is getting longer. PM Modi’s focus is shifted on the corona crisis at the moment. His successful fight against the menace will undoubtedly help the BJP getting political and electoral benefits in Bihar. The beginning of 2020 didn’t augur well for the BJP, with the saffron party having lost in Jharkhand and Maharashtra. BJP could somehow manage to form the government in Haryana. What was disappointing for the BJP was that it could not reap electoral harvest despite PM Modi’s bold decisions like Art 370 abrogation, banning tripple talaq and CAA-NRC. Riots and communal tension in various parts of the country were then adding to the woes of the BJP. Shiv Sena severing ties with BJP was a jolt to the saffron outfit.
Given all this, the BJP was bent upon broadening its ally base, with JDU being the first whom the saffron party tried to woo. Three JDU MPs were to be accommodated in the Modi team. The JDU was reluctant earlier to join the Modi government when it came into being the second time. Likewise, Jagan’s party was to be given a ministerial berth as a reward for his support to Article 370 abrogation. New found friend in Haryana JJP was to be obliged with a ministerial position. Apna Dal in UP would also have got its share in the team. The young face from UP Varun Gandhi’s name was also doing the rounds.
His claim was strong since his mother Maneka Gandhi was excluded from the Cabinet in the second BJP government. Gandhi had lauded Modi for CAA and unequivocally lambasted the Congress for opposing it. He also distributed food packets among the poor giving credit to PM Modi. Going by what was fixed earlier, Nadda’s new team was expected to be formed in April which was to be followed by a Cabinet expansion in May.
All these exercises would have taken election-bound states into consideration, which include Bihar, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and J&K. UP has to go to polls in the beginning of 2022. With the corona pandemic eclipsing various plans of BJP, the ruling party is contemplating to turn the crisis into an opportunity. The opportunity in a sense that the BJP will be cashing in on PM’s successful fight against corona. The BJP feels that so far the PM’s popularity graph has gone up due to what it calls his innovative initiatives against the pandemic.
In future, the fight against corona under his leadership will get the desired goal, feels the BJP. There’s no denying a victory in Bihar polls will give BJP a fresh lease of life to the extent it will face West Bengal elections with renewed vigour. Winning 18 seats in Lok Sabha polls was already a shot in the arm of the BJP. There’s a direct fight between the BJP and TMC in Bengal. Electoral wins will cushion the impact of setbacks that the BJP has been facing over the past several months now. Going to the south, the BJP may try its hands with actor Rajinikanth and the AIADMK.
The party will have more effective strategy for Kerala to augment its presence. If government decides to hold polls in J&K, then the BJP will go with small parties in order to be in power there. That’s why PM is moving cautiously, not giving any opportunity to the Opposition so that it could corner him and the BJP over the corona fight.
He is not heeding the Opposition’s criticism at this point in time either. Soon after the corona battle, the most crucial fight that the BJP has to face is elections of Bihar which will happen most probably in October. What gives it comfort is the ties with JDU being intact in the state. But the BJP is banking on what it calls the rising graph of popularity of its charismatic leader Modi.