As another exit poll predicted a clear victory for a BJP-led coalition, the party on Wednesday began planning for the next government in right earnest with three key leaders flying to Gandhinagar to meet PM candidate Narendra Modi while meetings were held in the Capital too.
Modi’s immediate challenge is to select heavyweight party leaders for key cabinet assignments without ruffling any feathers, strike a balance in dividing talent between the party and government, and suitably accommodate the two veterans, LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi.
That Modi wants to implement his election promise — “less government, more governance” — by going in for a smaller cabinet could leave him with less elbow room to manoeuvre, given the large number of aspirants for key cabinet posts. For instance, the agriculture, food and civil supplies and fertilizer ministries could all be brought under one cabinet minister.
Also, sources said, Modi was considering inducting some unexpected faces, including Gujarat energy ministry Saurabh Patel, former ICICI Bank chairman KV Kamath and former disinvestment minister Arun Shourie.
BJP leaders suggested the string of meetings in Delhi and Gandhinagar were an attempt to address these challenges.
“The discussion is about who would join the government and who would stay back in the organisation… We haven’t come down to talking about portfolios yet,” a senior leader said hours before BJP president Rajnath Singh, senior leader Arun Jaitley and former president Nitin Gadkari took a chartered flight to Ahmedabad for a closed-door meeting with Modi.
This also marked a departure from the usual practice of holding such deliberations in Delhi. Instead, Rajnath and Gadkari held separate consultations with the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, who flew out to Bhopal soon after.
The meeting is learnt to have been aimed at gauging her mood on joining the Modi government. Sushma, who did not play a major role in the campaign, is keeping her cards close to her chest and apparently wants Modi to speak his mind on her role in a future government. She is speculated to be interested in the defence or external affairs ministry.
Swaraj’s mentor and deputy PM in the Vajpayee government, Advani, has already indicated that he would not join the Modi cabinet. The NDA’s working chairman could be elevated to NDA chairman, a post held by ailing former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal would be named NDA convenor, a post held by JD(U) president Sharad Yadav till his party broke away from the alliance last year.
Sources said Joshi was eyeing finance or external affairs, but the key leaders weren’t on board on this. “Since presidential and vice-presidential elections are far away, some important constitutional post, like Lok Sabha Speaker, could be offered to the two veterans,” a BJP leader told HT.
“Atalji and Advaniji are our founder members, our most senior leaders. The party’s parliamentary board will take an appropriate decision at an appropriate time (about Advani),” Gadkari, playing an active role in negotiating with various groups in the party, told reporters.
The discussions in Gujarat are also expected to clear the air over whether Rajnath would be part of the government and what ministry he would get in the event of joining the council of minister.
Having gone public with his intention to serve the party for the remaining term, Singh is seen as a probable for the all-important home or defence portfolios.
BJP parliamentary board to meet in Delhi on May 17
BJP parliamentary board will meet in Delhi on Saturday, a day after Lok Sabha poll results are declared, to finalise a timeframe for electing Narendra Modi as leader of BJP and NDA parliamentary parties at the earliest.
"I have told Narendrabhai to come to Delhi on 17th. I will convene the parliamentary board meeting on that date to decide the earliest date to hold BJP parliamentary party meet to formally elect Narendrabhai as our leader," Rajnath Singh told reporters after a three-hour meeting the party's core group leaders at Modi's residence.
(with PTI inputs)