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Long-overdue union cabinet reshuffle likely this week

LiveMint logoLiveMint 30-08-2017 Gyan Varma

New Delhi: There is strong buzz in the capital that a long-pending reshuffle of the Union cabinet may take place soon, may be as early as this week.

Senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) believe the expansion of the council of ministers can happen before Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves for China on 3 September to attend a BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) Summit.

Members of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) argue that while cabinet expansion and a possible reshuffle has been due for a long time, the changes in the Union cabinet this time would reflect the expanding electoral clout of the coalition—most recently Nitish Kumar dumped his Janata Dal (United)’s, or JDU’s, alliance partner Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and returned the BJP to power in the key state of Bihar.

“The cabinet reshuffle is due and it can happen anytime. There are several ministries which need attention. There is a possibility that expansion of council of ministers may take place before Prime Minister leaves for China,” said a senior BJP leader who requested anonymity.

Apart from the growing presence of the NDA in the country, expansion of the council of ministers is also due because of the vacancies that have been created due to the sudden demise of environment minister Anil Madhav Dave and the return of former defence minister Manohar Parrikar to Goa state politics. The election of M. Venkaiah Naidu as vice-president also deprived the cabinet of a key minister.

Senior leaders of the BJP point out that this would be the third cabinet reshuffle of the NDA and possibly the last before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

“It is possible that a couple of leaders would find space in the council of ministers. The induction of JD(U) leaders is obvious after they have joined the NDA. The presence of JDU in NDA has demoralized the opposition and its ability to challenge the NDA,” said a senior NDA leader.

Senior leaders of the NDA also point out that the government also hopes that some of the members of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (AIADMK) would join the government.

“The delay in cabinet expansion is only because the government wants AIADMK to join NDA so that some of the senior leaders of Tamil Nadu can also be inducted. The induction of AIADMK is important because it would be the only major party from South India to become part of the NDA. Apart from Andhra Pradesh, NDA doesn’t have a big party from southern states,” the NDA leader cited above added.

The changes in the Union government are likely to work in tandem with a reorganization of the BJP. It is likely that some of the ministers may be redeployed to work for the party.

“The BJP is keen to perform well in Odisha, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, so it is possible that some of the ministers could be given full-time charge of each of the state. It is a call that would be finally taken by the prime minister,” the BJP leader added.

Modi first expanded his cabinet in November 2014 when he inducted 21 new faces, including defence minister Parrikar, health minister J.P. Nadda and railway minister Suresh Prabhu. In July last year, Modi undertook another reshuffle in which he promoted senior leader Prakash Javadekar as the human resource development (HRD) minister, replacing Smriti Irani, who was shifted to textiles.

“The government wants to show that the BJP is leading a broad NDA which has several regional parties as its members,” said Mumbai-based political analyst Jai Mrug. “The NDA also needs more talent who can execute key development projects for the government. Execution of projects is the key for NDA before 2019 general elections.”

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