The sudden cancellation Monday of BJP president Amit Shah’s scheduled three-day visit to Tamil Nadu sparked speculation of an imminent reshuffle of the Union Council of Ministers. “The reason for cancellation, we have been told, is that Amit Shah is required in Delhi for discussions,” a BJP source said on the change in the party president’s itinerary that was firmed much in advance. The Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP had planned a grand welcome for Shah in Chennai.
The cancellation of the trip came on the day the two factions of the AIADMK buried the hatchet and former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam joined the Palaniswami government as Deputy Chief Minister.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reacted swiftly to the developments in Chennai. “I congratulate Thiru O Panneerselvam & others who took oath today. I hope Tamil Nadu scales newer heights of progress in the years to come,” Modi said in a tweet, adding, “Centre assures all possible support to CM Thiru Edappadi K. Palaniswami & Dy CM Thiru O Panneerselvam for the growth of TN. @OfficeOfOPS”.
Modi’s reaction to the developments in Chennai echoed the alacrity he had shown in reacting to the political developments in Patna on July 26. Modi had congratulated Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar then. Kumar resigned from the post to walk out of the Grand Alliance with the RJD and Congress. The BJP quickly embraced the JD(U), leaving aside over four years of bitter political rivalry.
Shah’s decision to cancel his Chennai visit and the Prime Minister’s response to the Tamil Nadu developments have added to the speculation on a Cabinet reshuffle.
Last Saturday, the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) passed a formal resolution to join the ruling NDA, indicating the party’s willingness to join the Modi cabinet at the Centre. Senior BJP leaders, likewise, suggested that AIADMK was also all set to join the Modi government.
Though a Cabinet reshuffle is the prerogative of the Prime Minister, sources in the BJP suggest that an informal consultation mechanism within the party has been activated. In fact, Shah, who played a crucial role in sounding out new inductees ahead of the previous Cabinet reshuffle last year, seems to have taken up the mantle of consultation this time too.
Shah is slated to meet BJP chief ministers one-on-one Tuesday. Party chief ministers, in fact, reached Delhi on Monday for the conference of BJP CMs at the party headquarters. Earlier, Shah had a meeting with Union Ministers Chaudhary Birender Singh, Rajiv Pratap Rudy and RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha.
Currently, the Central government has 73 members, including the Prime Minister. The Constitution prescribes that the strength of Council of Ministers shall not exceed 15 per cent of the total members of Lok Sabha. Accordingly, the government can have 81 ministers. So, the Prime Minister does have some cushion to induct a few more ministers without breaching the stipulated quota.
With the exit of several key ministers — Manohar Parrikar (Defence), M Venkaiah Naidu (Urban Development) and late Anil Dave (Environment Minister) — there are key vacancies in the Modi cabinet since the reshuffle last July. Party sources did not rule out some making way for new faces given the electoral imperatives in Gujarat (late 2017) and Karnataka (early 2018) as well as with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
As for inductions, BJP insiders are claiming certain these could be from JD(U) and AIADMK. While JD(U) has a dozen MPs in both Houses of Parliament, the AIADMK has 50 MPs in Parliament.