Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be inducting nine new ministers in his Council of Ministers on Sunday morning, ending days of speculation over the much-anticipated reshuffle. There are no leaders from NDA partners, including new partner JD(U), among the nine names. Four of the nine are former bureaucrats. There was no news on the portfolios the new ministers would hold, or if there would be a change among the existent ministers, including if Finance Minister Arun Jaitley would continue to hold Defence. Jaitley has repeatedly cited his eagerness to shed the additional portfolio.
The nine who are slated to be inducted on Sunday include Shiv Pratap Shukla (Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh), Ashwini Kumar Choubey (Lok Sabha MP from Buxar, Bihar), Virendra Kumar (Lok Sabha MP from Tikamgarh, Madhya Pradesh), Anant Kumar Dattatreya Hegde (Lok Sabha MP from Uttara Kannada), R K Singh (Lok Sabha MP from Arrah, Bihar), Hardeep Singh Puri (ex-diplomat), Gajendra Singh Shekhawat (Lok Sabha MP from Jodhpur), Satyapal Singh (Lok Sabha MP from Baghpat), and Alphons Kannanthanam (ex-bureaucrat).
In the days leading up to the reshuffle, six ministers had “volunteered to resign”. Apart from that, the Cabinet had three existing vacancies following the exit of Manohar Parrikar and M Venkaiah Naidu from the government (after becoming the Goa Chief Minister and Vice-President, respectively), and the death of Anil Madhav Dave.
Sources said the exact nature of the reshuffle in portfolios would be clear only after the swearing-in Sunday, including if the nine get Cabinet, Minister of State (Independent Charge) or Minister of State rank.
Earlier on Saturday, as confusion prevailed over who would be inducted on Sunday, JD(U) leader and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar claimed in Patna that there had been “no such talk of the JD(U) joining the Union Cabinet”. “No talks were held on the issue (between the BJP and JD-U),” he said.
Uddhav Thackeray told reporters in Mumbai, “I have got news about the Cabinet expansion only from the media. I have not enquired about it (from the central BJP leadership). I have neither received any communication from anybody nor are we hungry for power.”
Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj called on Vice-President Naidu. There was no official word on the meeting. Through the day, the BJP leadership was in constant touch with former party chief Nitin Gadkari, who was in Nagpur, over the reshuffle. He returned to the Capital late on Saturday evening.
Earlier, on Friday night, Swaraj, Gadkari, Jaitley and Rajnath Singh had held a meeting at Singh’s residence. Shah, who was in Vrindavan for a coordination meeting with top RSS leaders on Friday, is believed to have held a separate meeting with the Sangh top brass, where the Cabinet reshuffle may have come up for consultation.
While seven of the nine new inductees are MPs, Puri and Alphons would need to get elected to Parliament within six months. The BJP could choose to send them to the Rajya Sabha, from seats vacated by Naidu (Rajasthan) and Parrikar (UP). While R K Singh and Alphons are ex-IAS officers, Satyapal is an ex-IPS officer and Hardeep Puri a former IFS officer.
“The new ministers come from varied walks of life, bringing in their unique professional perspective and proficiency to the Council. Many of them also bring rich administrative and governance experience, and will be strategically placed in key ministries, especially focusing on last-mile delivery directly to the people,” said a government source, on the selection of former bureaucrats.
The source added that those chosen had “4P” — passion, proficiency, professionalism and political acumen — and would lead the government towards a “path of progress” ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Apart from the four, politicians Shukla, Choubey, Virendra Kumar, Hegde and Shekhawat appear to have been handpicked keeping the political considerations of their states in mind.
Shukla hails from UP chief Minister Yogi Aditayanath’s Goraphpur constituency, neighbouring Deoria, that was represented by Kalraj Mishra, who resigned from the government to make way for the new inductions. Like Mishra, Shukla is a Brahmin, and the BJP hopes to keep the community happy while counter-balancing Adityanath, who hails from the Thakur community in eastern UP.
Choubey similarly fills a crucial gap, of a Brahmin from Bihar, in the Union Council of Ministers, and addresses social balance after the BJP installed backward leaders on prominent positions in the state party unit and state government. The choice of Virendra Kumar, a Dalit from Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh, follows the nomination of Sampatiya Uikey, a tribal, to the Rajya Sabha recently. The Dalit and tribal vote could prove crucial for the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, that goes to polls next year, months ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Alphons belongs to Kerala, a state the BJP has set its eyes on, while Hegde’s appointment will please hardcore Hindtuva cadres of the BJP in poll-bound Karnataka. Hegde, who has been associated with the RSS, shot to prominence for his aggressive Hindutva brand of politics post-Babri demolition.
The choice of Shekhawat, who is a Thakur, seeks to redress the simmering anger within the community in Rajasthan. He belongs to Jodhpur, the base of former Congress chief minister Ashok Gehlot, and could succeed in pinning down Gehlot on his home turf at poll time.
The six outgoing ministers are Kalraj Mishra, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Bandaru Dattatreya, Faggan Singh Kulaste, Sanjiv Balyan and Mahendra Nath Pandey. While Rudy confirmed his resignation earlier, Mishra did it on Saturday. Pandey has been named the UP BJP chief.