Modi to strengthen Cabinet today,19 new faces likely
BJP chief Amit Shah’s midnight calls to about a dozen parliamentarians set the stage for a reshuffle and expansion of the Union council of ministers on Tuesday, the second since the NDA came to power in May 2014.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will induct 19 new faces into his council of ministers with many of them from states where elections are due next year.
“Aap Dilli mein kal hain (are you in Delhi tomorrow)?” asked Shah inviting the MPs to tea at his residence in the national capital on Monday morning. A few more calls and all roads seemed to lead to his Akbar Road bungalow.
Shah met more than a dozen MPs separately, asking them to fulfil their “responsibility” earnestly.
Another pep talk is scheduled after the swearing-in of new ministers at Rashtrapati Bhawan, where the function begins at 11am. Prime Minister Modi will meet them at a cabinet meeting in the afternoon.
Five of the new faces are likely to be from the Dalit community, part of the BJP’s broader plan to appeal to the scheduled castes in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab. All three states vote next year and have a substantial population of scheduled castes that has traditionally stayed away from the BJP.
Dalit parliamentarians Krishna Raj of Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh, Almora MP Ajay Tamta, Maharashtra’s Ramdas Athawale of the RPI, an NDA constituent, Rajasthan’s Bikaner MP Arjun Meghwal, and Karnataka’s Chikkodi MP Ramesh Chandrappa Jigajinagi are likely to join Modi’s team.
The Almora MP is set to become the first minister from Uttarakhand in the NDA government.
Apart from Athawale, another BJP ally to be inducted in the council of ministers is Anupriya Patel of the Apna Dal, an OBC parliamentarian from Mirzapur. The BJP is in talks with the Apna Dal for a merger, sources said. This may happen before the UP polls.
Anil Desai of the Shiv Sena was earlier tipped to get a ministerial berth but there appeared to be a last-minute hitch in negotiations over another cabinet rank for the ally.
The top four portfolios — home, finance, external affairs and defence — are unlikely to be touched, government sources said.
At least six ministers are likely to be dropped, including Sanwarlal Jat and Nihal Chand from Rajasthan, GM Siddeshwara from Karnataka, Ramshankar Katheria from UP, and Mohanbhai Kundariya and Mansukhbhai Vasava from Gujarat.
Minority affairs minister Najma Heptulla, 76, and small and medium enterprises minister Kalraj Mishra, 75, are said to be on a sticky wicket because of their age. Though age has never been an official criterion, Modi has repeatedly stressed on young blood in his government.
Sources said Mishra’s fate would hinge on the leadership’s assessment of his importance as a prominent Brahmin leader in poll-bound UP. Chandauli MP Mahendra Pandey, another Brahmin face from the politically crucial state, is likely to be inducted.
Power minister Piyush Goyal and petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan are likely to be elevated to cabinet status, the sources said. Among those tipped to be elevated are ministers of state Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Manoj Sinha and Sanjeev Balyan — all three from UP.
There could be a change in portfolios of some ministers, the sources said.
The induction of Patel, Raj and Pandey will push up UP’s representation in the council of ministers to 16.
The BJP won 71 of the 80 seats in UP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and is now going all out to consolidate its gains in next year’s state polls. The BJP is looking to dislodge regional parties such as the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party that have alternated power in UP for about 14 years.
Dahod MP Jaswantsinh Bhabhor besides Rajya Sabha members Masukh L Mandaviya and Parshottam Rupala from Gujarat are likely to come into the council of ministers.
Rajya Sabha MP Vijay Goyal, Darjeeling MP SS Ahluwalia and Pali MP PP Choudhary will likely find a place too. CR Choudhary from Nagaur in Rajasthan could be a possible minister too.
Rajya Sabha members MJ Akbar and Anil Madhav Dave, besides Mandla MP Faggan Singh Kulaste are probable from Madhya Pradesh. Maharashtra’s Dhule MP Subhash Bhamre and Rajen Gohain, the MP for Nagaon in Assam, are also being considered.
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