When Prime Minister Narendra Modi reshuffles his council of ministers on Tuesday, the much-awaited exercise will be the latest in a long string of attempts by his party to reach out to the Dalit community.
A third of the dozen-odd new faces who are likely to join Modi’s council are from the scheduled castes, who hold the key to victory in several poll-bound states next year.
In the reshuffle, Modi will also attempt to strike a regional balance that has been missing in his team at present.
Shahjahanpur MP Krishna Raj (Uttar Pradesh), Bikaner MP Arjun Ram Meghwal (Rajasthan), Ram Das Athawale (Maharashtra) and Ajay Tamta (Uttarakhand) are expected to get ministerial berths.
Their likely induction comes ahead of elections in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where the scheduled caste community forms a sizeable chunk of the electorate.
In the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is desperately wooing the Dalit community that has largely voted for Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati in the last two decades. Any gains among the SCs will help the BJP inch closer to its target of winning 265 assembly seats in the 403-member assembly.
The prominence given to Apna Dal leader Anupriya Patel, a Kurmi leader from eastern Uttar Pradesh, is seen as the BJP’s move to pre-empt any rise of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, another Kurmi leader.
The possible induction of Chandauli MP Mahendra Nath Pandey, a prominent Brahmin leader from eastern Uttar Pradesh, is also an effort by the BJP to woo the Brahmins.
The saffron party recently gave the lone Rajya Sabha seat from Uttar Pradesh to another Brahmin, Shiv Pratap Shukla.
Controversial jat leader from western Uttar Pradesh, Sanjeev Balyan, and Bhumihar leader from eastern Uttar Pradesh, Manoj Sinha, are also likely to be promoted. Currently, both hold minister of state rank in Team Modi.
Almora MP Ajay Tamta is likely to be the first leader from Uttarakhand to get a berth in Modi’s team. The hill state goes to polls next year and the BJP is looking to regain ground after its unsuccessful attempt to topple the Harish Rawat-led Congress government recently.
Again, Dalits account for nearly 18% of the state’s population.
Prime Minister Modi is also likely to replace ministerial colleagues from Rajasthan – Sanwar Lal Jat and Nihalchand – with Arjun Ram Meghwal and Pali MP PP Choudhary.
A former bureaucrat, Meghwal is considered to have a clean image. While Jat is likely to be relieved on health ground, Nihalchand courted controversy over rape charges.
Vijay Goyal, a Vaishya leader from Delhi who represents Rajasthan in the Upper House of Parliament, is expected to get a ministerial berth.
Anil Madhav Dave and MJ Akbar, who got re-elected in the recent Rajya Sabha elections, are the likely faces from Madhya Pradesh.
Madhav is considered close to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat while Akbar is tipped to get a role as a junior minister in the ministry of external affairs.
Gujarat, a crucial state where the BJP is dealing with protests by Patels over reservation, will also get more berths. Rajya Sabha member Purushottam Rupala and Bhavnagar MP Mansukh L Mandaviya are likely to be inducted.
Darjeeling MP SS Ahluwalia, a veteran parliamentarian, is being brought in the government. Given his experience in parliamentary matters, sources said, the PM wants to utilize him in also managing Parliament. The government has repeatedly been pushed on the back foot in Parliament by an aggressive Opposition.
Ally Shiv Sena is also likely to get one more ministerial berth, which may go to Rajya Sabha member Anil Desai. He is a confidante of Uddhav Thackeray and missed the buss in the last reshuffle.