The buzz in the national capital is that Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi may be going for a major cabinet reshuffle. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar aligning himself with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and now expecting berths in the Union cabinet; Shiv Sena in Maharashtra making noises all the time against the BJP which amounts to almost getting into opposition space and the political developments in South India will get reflected in the cabinet reshuffle according to most observers.
BJP National President Amit Shah has been meeting one-on-one with ministers of state like Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Upendra Kushwaha and even with the leadership in Maharashtra to decide how to take the cabinet
The priority for PM Modi should be now to have a full-fledged defence minister, given the situation on India’s eastern and western borders. Some Delhi-based observers say that many portfolios may also be changed by the prime minister.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s party, the Janata Dal-United, is joining the PM’s national coalition and will be entitled to Union ministries. Sources said that Nitish has been asked to travel to Delhi next week and that after being offered the choice of one Union cabinet minister or two junior minister positions, he has chosen the latter for his party.
BJP’s alliance partner in Maharashtra Shiv Sena, is allegedly coveting either the Home Ministry in Maharashtra, may be refused any important portfolio given the tension between the alliance partners. In 2014, party’s Rajya Sabha MP Anil Desai had refused to attend the oath ceremony in Delhi after flying down from Mumbai because he was not included in the cabinet; he flew back to Maharashtra on the orders of his boss and party chief Uddhav Thackeray.
The AIADMK, which governs Tamil Nadu, has sided with the Union government on key legislation and is seen as a ‘friendly party’, which is why PM Modi made time recently to meet with the leaders of its two rival wings. They have reunited months after a fracture caused by the death of its charismatic and supremely powerful leader, J Jayalalithaa.
There was substantial talk in Chennai about the reunification being announced ahead of Shah’s arrival in Chennai, a move that would allow him and the BJP to be seen as a driving force in Tamil Nadu’s politics, even if behind the scenes. The state has been largely barren for the BJP and Shah has included it in his plans for expanding the party’s footprint.
Some national news channels say that BJP’s Murlidhar Rao, who is in charge of southern states, had landed in Chennai to organise a large welcome for Shah, giving away the last minute nature of the cancellation. Shah’s office refused to comment about Chennai being ditched. However, the party president met BJP chief ministers along with the prime minister on Monday. Rashtrapati Bhawan sources said they have been given no notice about swearing in new ministers; President Ram Nath Kovind returned to Delhi on Monday from a trip to Leh.
The cabinet is long overdue for changes, say government sources. Finance and Defence are being handled by the same minister. With Venkaiah Naidu being elected Vice President, the key ministry of Information and Broadcasting is being handled as an additional charge by Textiles Minister Smriti Irani. Many targets are to be achieved in one cabinet reshuffle. Only time will tell which NDA constituent will be given what responsibility but Nitish Kumar’s JDU is slated to be the biggest gainer in the deal.