The exercise to rehuffle the Union Cabinet — the third in as many years — has gained momentum with several Union Ministers being summoned by BJP president Amit Shah today. Some of them, sources said, were told that they were being re-assigned to roles in the party. Additionally, Shah also held closed-door discussions with M Thambidurai of AIADMK which is looking at being part of the NDA at the Centre amid its two factions coming together in Tamil Nadu.
The first indication of the reshuffle came late afternoon when junior HRD Minister Mahendra Nath Pandey was named as the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh unit chief by Shah. Pandey, therefore, is set to exit the Narendra Modi government.
Next, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Skill Development Rajiv Pratap Rudy, too, was summoned by Shah and is learnt to have been asked to put in his papers. Junior Health Minister Faggan Singh Kulaste were also learnt to have been summoned by the BJP president.
Two ministers from Uttar Pradesh Cabinet Minister Kalraj Mishra and MoS Water Resources Sanjeev Balyan were also learnt to have met the BJP president.
Sources said they were summoned for their views on who the next BJP chief in UP should be. However, party leaders did not rule out their exit — Mishra has crossed the unofficial 75-years limit for a Ministerial position. Sources, in this context, also said that Cabinet Minister Uma Bharti had offered to quit a few days ago but there was no official word on her.
Late in the evening, Shah was learnt to have driven down to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his official residence, sources said. While there was no official word about their meeting, it was believed in the party circles that the Cabinet reshuffle and political re-assignment of Union Ministers were discussed.
Currently, there are three vacancies in the Council of Ministers arising out of the exit of Manohar Parrikar and M Venkaiah Naidu from the Government and the passing away of Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave.
Meanwhile, Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu has also offered to exit from the government after a series of rail mishaps more than a week ago and had said that the Prime Minister had asked him to “wait.”
Against this backdrop, sources said, fresh faces in the Union Council of Ministers were expected 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 is keen to bring AIADMK in as well.
With Modi slated to travel to China Sunday afternoon for the BRICS summit and President Ram Nath Kovind slated to return to capital from Tirupati late Saturday afternoon, there was speculation that the reshuffle would take place over the weekend. President Kovind is slated to depart for Andhra Pradesh Friday around 11 am.
Earlier in the day, Shah called a meeting of Union Ministers Arun Jaitley, Narendra Singh Tomar, Nirmala Sitharaman, Jitendra Singh and PP Chaudhary. On their agenda: the Gujarat assembly elections. Jaitley has been tasked as in-charge for Gujarat elections. The meeting was also attended by BJP General Secretary (Organisation) Ram Lal, party general secretary in-charge of Gujarat Bhupender Yadav and BJP’s Gujarat unit chief Jitu Vaghani.