Ending days of will-it-won’t-it, officials Friday confirmed that the reshuffle of the Union Council of Ministers has been scheduled for Sunday 10 am. But a late-evening meeting at Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s residence set off another cycle of speculation over the possibility of a new face in the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). While BJP president Amit Shah was in Vrindavan for an RSS coordination meeting, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari met at Rajnath Singh’s residence.
Although there was no official word from either the party or any of these four Ministers about this meeting, there was buzz in the party about its significance. A source suggested that the meeting was part of the internal deliberations over the imminent Cabinet reshuffle. Another source suggested that the issue of the “new member of the CCS” could have been part of the discussion.
The huddle comes a day after Jaitley, asked how long would he continue to hold two portfolios, had said: “At least, I hope, not very long.” All eyes have now shifted to the new member of the Cabinet Committee on Security which includes Ministers of Home, Finance, Defence and External Affairs under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister. The previous incumbent in the CCS, Manohar Parrikar as Defence Minister, had the blessings of the RSS as well before he was given a place on Raisina Hill in November 2014. Against this backdrop, BJP sources suggested that the party and RSS need to be on board on the new choice for the Raisina Hill assignment.
Until midnight, party circles were speculating whether former BJP president Nitin Gadkari would be sent up the Raisina Hill or a new face would be elevated as Gadkari is reluctant to move out of Transport. This new face needs the blessings of both the BJP organisation as well as of the RSS.
A section in the party wondered if Shah would join the government but a source close to the party president said that the BJP chief had made it clear that his task was cut out and he wasn’t leaving the party organisation until the 2019 elections. Whether the entry of this new member would call for a rejig in the responsibilities of the current CCS could also have come up for discussion, said a source.
This meeting came a day after Shah yesterday had summoned Ministers Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Sanjiv Kumar Balyan and Faggan Singh Kulaste asking them to put in their papers. MoS HRD Mahendra Nath Pandey’s exit from the government was also cleared after Shah named him president of the party’s UP unit. Minister Kalraj Mishra, who has crossed the unwritten 75-years-age limit to remain in the government, was also called by Shah.
BJP sources said Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, too, has been asked to put in his papers. For his part, Rudy was quick to make his exit public by changing his profile introduction on his Twitter handle — from Minister to Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha. “It is a decision of the party and I am a soldier of the party. Whatever I am today is because of the party,” Rudy told The Indian Express. “I am ready for any assignment that the party assigns me.”
Meanwhile, Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti brushed aside speculation on having made an offer to resign, saying queries related to the issue should be addressed to Amit Shah. “The media sought my reaction on reports in circulation since yesterday. I have said that I have not heard the question, will not hear nor will I answer it,” Bharti tweeted, adding it was only for BJP president or persons authorised by him to speak on it.
Currently, there are three key vacancies in the Union Council of Ministers following the exit of Manohar Parrikar and M Venkaiah Naidu from the government and the death of Anil Madhav Dave. Even Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had offered to exit the government but the Prime Minister was said to have asked him to wait. BJP sources suggested that fresh faces in the Union Council of Ministers were likely from poll-bound Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka along with some from Rajasthan and Maharashtra among others.
While JD(U), the new partner of NDA, is all set to join the government, the BJP’s hope to rope in AIADMK seems to have been stuck because of internal wrangling within the party in Tamil Nadu.