On May 30, Narendra Modi 2.0 government completed the first year of its second term in office. After a month-and-half of the event, there is intense speculation in Delhi that the Prime Minister is contemplating a cabinet reshuffle.
There are several reasons why PM Modi should be reshuffling his cabinet. There are at least half-a-dozen ministers who hold two or even three portfolios. This needs correction. For instance, Piyush Goyal is in-charge of the ministries of Commerce, Industry and Railways. All three are large ministries.
Nirmala Sitaraman holds the portfolios of Finance and Corporate Affairs. With the Indian economy emerging as the biggest challenge, more so after the COVID-19 pandemic, her hands are full.
Ravishankar Prasad is the Minister for three varied portfolios such as Law and Justice, Electronics, and Information Technology and Communications. Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri is also in-charge of Urban Affairs — two completely different fields.
Harsh Vardhan, who has quite a task in hand as the Ministry of Health is battling a pandemic, is also in charge of the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
The speculations got intense last week as the Prime Minister held a meeting with BJP president JP Nadda and discussed restructuring the party organisation, and reorganising his cabinet. He also met RSS joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale, BJP general secretary (organisation) BL Santosh and senior RSS leader Dr. Krishan Gopal.
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According to news reports, earlier, he individually met cabinet ministers and sought report cards on their performances and that of their ministries on the first year of his government’s second term. Significantly, the Minister of Transport, Nitin Gadkari, who is considered close to RSS, and all-powerful Home Minister Amit Shah were exempted.
There is enough headroom for Modi to carry out this exercise as currently there are 56 ministers in his cabinet — 23 with cabinet rank, 24 with the minister-of-state rank and 9 holding independent portfolios. If Modi were to follow the recommendations of the administrative reforms committee, his cabinet strength could go up to 80.
The reshuffle is expected to infuse new talent into the ministry. According to R. Rajagopalan, veteran political observer, Modi has short-listed 15 to 20 young MPs, many first-timers, among whom one or two may find a berth in his cabinet.
He is committed to inducting Jyothiraditya Scindia, who recently got elected to Rajya Sabha on a BJP ticket. He rebelled from the Congress and walked away with his supporters, pulling down the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh, for which he would be rewarded.
While the Opposition continues to be in a disarray and unable to corner the government on various contentious issues, the BJP is going ahead merrily and planning for the future.
According to Sachidananda Murthy, Resident Editor of The Week and Malayala Manorama, in the politically significant reshuffle, Modi is likely to give representation to regional parties so that they are further weaned away from Congress and could fulfil RSS-BJP’s agenda of ‘Congress-mukht Bharat.’
To ensure this, Modi may give representations TRS, YSRCP, AIADMK and JD(U) so that they remain within NDA fold. While JD(U) would be making a return, other parties have stood with the BJP and voted in favour of contentious bills in the Parliament. In the subsequent years, BJP would also like to break the UPA by tempting some of the Congress allies with representation in the Cabinet.
The reshuffle is also important in view of forthcoming elections to five assemblies beginning with Bihar this year and later in West Bengal. Besides giving representation to allies, Modi would also be looking out to balance regional powers within his party.
Finally, some of the non-performers could be axed. Some could be moved to party for organisational work. There could be lateral entry of talents from outside the political framework too.
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