Governor reshuffle, new Ministry clear decks for Cabinet expansion

The BJP headquarters was abuzz with names of those who have been summoned to the capital, an indication that they could be inducted into the new Council.

Narendra Modi with his council of ministers in 2019.

The setting up of a new Ministry to “strengthen” the co-operative movement, the appointment of four new Governors and the transfer of four others Tuesday, has set the stage for the much-anticipated expansion of the Union Council of Ministers.

While there was no official word, multiple sources confirmed that the first reshuffle in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second term is slated for Wednesday evening.

The BJP headquarters was abuzz with names of those who have been summoned to the capital, an indication that they could be inducted into the new Council.

Congress-turned-BJP leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, former Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, and former Maharashtra Chief Minister Narayan Rane reached New Delhi Tuesday.

Read |Cabinet reshuffle likely this week: Full list of ministers in Narendra Modi’s cabinet

Sources said JD(U) leaders Lalan Singh and RCP Singh; R K Ranjan Singh (Manipur BJP); Shantanu Thakur (West Bengal); Hina Gavit (Maharashtra) and A Narayanaswamy (Karnataka) are also among those reportedly called to the capital. BJP allies Apna Dal and LJP are expected to find representation, too.

With senior Minister and Dalit leader Thaawarchand Gehlot being sent to Karnataka as Governor, another post opens up in the Cabinet.

While there can be 81 members in the Council of Ministers (15% of the Lok Sabha strength), after Gehlot’s exit, the current strength stands at 52.

With almost two dozen places open, the changes are likely to go beyond a Cabinet reshuffle and signal a major expansion of the Council of Ministers.

Sources suggested that the imperatives of politics and governance will be factored in and inductions will take into account the candidate’s record, besides community and geographical representation.

Likewise, they said, MPs who are either ex-bureaucrats or those who have held administrative offices in state governments will be given “due consideration.”

The reshuffle exercise will also have an eye on next year’s elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Manipur and Gujarat.

Sources said the expansion will try to accommodate representatives from as many states as possible as well as sub-regions in large states such as Purvanchal and Bundelkhand in UP, and the Konkan and western regions in Maharashtra.

The reshuffle will also aim to strike a social balance, with sources saying special emphasis will be on OBC and Dalit communities.

Gehlot’s gubernatorial assignment means the government will have to find a Dalit face as a replacement in the Cabinet – after the demise of LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan, Gehlot has been the Cabinet’s most prominent Dalit leader.

Sources said some women members may also be included in the expansion and emphasis will be on relatively younger leaders.

Meanwhile, besides Gehlot, the other new gubernatorial appointments are that of former Lok Sabha MP Hari Babu Kambhampati as Governor of Mizoram; Mangubhai Chhaganbhai Patel, a tribal leader from Gujarat who is set to go to Madhya Pradesh; and former Goa speaker Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar, who will be Governor of Himachal Pradesh.

Ramesh Bais, Governor of Tripura, has been transferred to Jharkhand, an Opposition-ruled state; Satyadev Narayan Arya has been moved from Haryana to Tripura; former Kerala BJP chief P S Sreedharan Pillai will move from Mizoram to Goa; and Bandaru Dattatreya, Governor of Himachal Pradesh, has been sent to Haryana.

The reshuffle follows a protracted review exercise by the Prime Minister and the BJP top brass in a series of meetings with Ministers. These were held in the wake of the devastating second Covid wave that has set off widespread criticism of the Government – including by several courts – for the mismanagement of the crisis.

The new Ministry announced Tuesday, sources said, will provide a separate administrative, legal and policy framework to help “deepen co-operatives as a true people-based movement” and work towards materialising the government’s “vision of ‘Sahkar se Samriddhi (prosperity through cooperatives)’”.

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