About 20 cabinet ministers and ministers of state (MoS) are likely to be sworn in at a function at Rashtrapati Bhawanon Sunday afternoon in a significant revamp of Narendra Modi's ruling team.
The Prime Minister is set to expand his 44-member strong council of ministers by inducting new faces, promoting junior ministers and reshuffling the portfolios of many others. Government sources said that the reshuffled team would likely be unveiled at 1.30pm on Sunday, two days before Modi leaves on a three-nation, 10-day tour. President Pranab Mukherjee, who will swear the ministers in, returns on Saturday from a trip to Bhutan.
The man tipped by many to become India's new defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, all but confirmed that he would be making the move to Delhi. Parrikar, who is chief minister of Goa, flew back to Panaji after meeting Modi and BJP president Amit Shah in Delhi, and told reporters: "I am not comfortable, I have too much affection towards the state. But rationality tells me if nation requires your services, I should take it. Whenever Goa wants my services, I will be there," he said.
Parrikar said that the BJP leadership had told him to accept an assignment at the Centre if it were offered.
"It is the prerogative of the Prime Minister. However, I would like to inform that the party has indicated to me that if such assignment comes, you should accept it,” he said.
Sources at Rashtrapati Bhavan said that the list of ministers to be sworn in is yet to be handed over but confirmed that Modi and Mukherjee had held a half hour discussion at the presidential palace.
BJP's largest ally, the Shiv Sena, is set to get to more berths. Sena sources said that the party may get one MoS with independent charge and another MoS portfolio. The Sena currently has one minister in the cabinet, Anant Geete, who is likely to retain the heavy industries portfolio.
Shiv Sena leader Suresh Prabhu, who is tipped to get a portfolio, remained tight-lipped. Asked if he was being inducted in the Cabinet, Prabhu, who is the PM's sherpa for the upcoming G20 Summit, joked, "That should be on the G20 agenda!”
BJP vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, former finance minister Yashwant Sinha’s son Jayant Sinha, Haryana leader Birender Singh, Maharashtra MP Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, Himachal Pradesh leaders JP Nadda or Anurag Thakur, Bhumihar leaders from Bihar Giriraj Singh or Bhola Singh and a couple of others are in contention for ministerial slots.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, whose Telugu Desam Party is a BJP ally, also indicated that an expansion of the cabinet was on the cards. "You will know details about the Cabinet expansion in two days," said Naidu, who had walked off stage for a few minutes during an interview at the World Economic Forum's India summit to attend a phone call from somebody he declined to identify. His party currently has one ministry and may get one more.
Parrikar, who led BJP to victory in the 2012 assembly polls in his state, said he was not comfortable about having to shift to the Centre.
"One reservation (about moving to Delhi) is because I have been elected for a five-year term with a popular mandate. My feeling is unless I complete the term it is not right on my part to leave mid-way. If I get an offer from the Prime Minister, then I will let you know what are my reasons for accepting the offer," he said.
Parrikar said he would be meeting BJP MLAs on Friday to brief them about developments. He, however, refused to say anything about who would be his successor. "There are many issues in deciding the successor... his capacity to deliver and to take everyone along. That is the party's internal assessment," he said. State assembly Speaker Rajendra Arlekar, deputy chief minister Francis D'Souza and union minister Sripad Yesso Naik are seen as contenders for the CM’s post.