A series of high-level meetings at the Prime Minister’s residence in recent days indicate that a union cabinet expansion or revamp may take place within this month. PM Modi has been silently working away for the past two months on this, say sources, while attending dozens of meetings on various aspects of containment and management of the second wave of Covid-19.
The PM has held a series of meetings at the ministerial and organisational levels, involving top names like home minister Amit Shah, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath and BJP president JP Nadda. Two years have passed since the National Democratic Alliance was voted back to power at the Centre in 2019 and New Delhi is abuzz with talk of a cabinet reshuffle.
Meetings with ministers
With the threat of the second wave of Covid-19 slowly subsiding, PM Modi is now assessing the performance of his ministers. He has started meeting members of his cabinet in small groups. The practice started at the beginning of this week with a group of five ministers. All of them presented their report cards with a special focus on the future roadmap of their respective ministries. Sources say that the PM has made it clear that this entire year was lost due to the pandemic, so everyone must go out on the ground and fix the problems that exist. This exercise will continue until all the cabinet ministers present their report cards. PM Modi also held a meeting with home minister Amit Shah and party president JP Nadda on Friday evening, giving rise to the conjecture that something significant was on the cards.
Vacancies in union cabinet
During the term of Modi government 2.0, a few key ministers and top leaders of the BJP have died, while allies like the Shiv Sena and Akali Dal have separated from the NDA, creating more than two dozen vacancies. Some senior ministers were allotted extra portfolios and this has led to a few of them being overburdened, say sources. Many states are yet to be given proper representation according to their strength in the Lok Sabha. During the Modi government’s first term, the Prime Minister closely assessed everyone’s performance and the first expansion was done after a year of taking office. A total of three cabinet reshuffles took place. But this has not been the case in the second term. And one of the reasons has been the coronavirus pandemic. The entire country, including the PM and the cabinet, has been fighting this unprecedented crisis. So, the expectation is that the Prime Minister may soon lessen the burden on ministers holding three to four portfolios, while some people could be dropped from the government based on their less-than-satisfactory performances.
State polls next year
With Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Goa, Manipur, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh facing assembly polls next year, the BJP wants to add more votes to its kitty. The focus is on several castes and groups that have gone unrepresented or underrepresented in the union and state cabinets. So some faces from western UP, some unrepresented castes or groups, etc, are likely to be given prominent positions in Delhi and even in Uttar Pradesh. There is a famous saying, “The road to Delhi passes through Lucknow.” So, a series of meetings at the organisational levels, and UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath meeting the PM and home minister Amit Shah indicate that some new faces are likely to be inducted. This further adds fuel to the speculation that a cabinet expansion may take place soon.
Many waiting to be absorbed
Ever since Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia joined the BJP last year, helping reinstate the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Madhya Pradesh, there has been conjecture in the media and among observers about when, if at all, he will join the union cabinet. Former Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal has made way for Himanta Biswa Sarma, in a peaceful transition of power, and he too appears to be waiting for a central posting.
Giving allies representation
BJP’s alliance partner from Bihar, Janata Dal (United), wants its two MPs to be inducted as union ministers. But the ruling BJP has made it clear that it will be a cabinet post and another for a minister of state. The Modi government also wanted to include Andhra Pradesh’s ruling YSR Congress in the cabinet but it had indicated its disinclination so far. The Andhra party has bailed the BJP out many times in Parliament with its numbers. Chief minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy meeting Shah and others this week indicates that attempts may be on to give a fresh touch to the NDA cabinet.