Facing a mid-term crisis of economy going into a downward spiral and a multiple fiascos like the handling of Guru Ram Rahim’s arrest in Haryana leading to the death of 36 people, the death of over 60 children in Uttar Pradesh coinciding with multiple train disasters hitting the ruling party, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to re-jig his team on Sunday to drive his government to seek a second term in 2019.
The reshuffle was being anticipated for long as many ministers were holding dual portfolios and new allies had to be adjusted but the PM has finally decided to ahead with the plan at a time when his government is perhaps going through one of the biggest challenges.
The Prime Minister’s much-publicised attack on black money received a serious jolt as demonetisation is being seen as a big failure and the economy is showing all the indicators of a slowdown -- with a 13 quarter low of 5.7 per cent GDP growth. Amidst these concerns and in their shadow, the process of a cabinet reshuffle has been set in motion and several ministers have already offered their resignations signalling inclusion of new faces in Team Modi
With general elections now less than two years away, there is an urgency -- even with the opposition in disarray — to put the Modi train back on track so that it does not suffer from negative perception. Among those who resigned, with the possible subtext being that they will not be in the cabinet, are Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Sanjiv Kumar Balyan, Faggan Singh Kulaste, and Mahendra Nath Pandey – all junior ministers. Labour minister Bandaru Dattatreya has also quit. Also in the exit list is commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
Among the cabinet ministers, Uma Bharati and Kalraj Mishra were also speculated to be on their way out. But commenting about her ouster, Uma Bharati tweeted: “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”.
Indications are that it will be a big reshuffle and three ministers are up for promotion. These are power minister Piyush Goyal, petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan, telecom minister Manoj Sinha and highways minister Nitin Gadkari. Power minister Piyush Goyal is being widely tipped to get one of the portfolios currently being held by high profile cabinet minister Arun Jaitley. Sources indicate that Jaitley will retain only one of the two portfolios. The finance ministry holds the key in wake of the ongoing crisis that is being attributed to demonetisation and the rollout of the Goods and Service Tax (GST). There had also been demands that the country should have a full-time defence minister because of the prevailing security situation.
One of the key changes likely is the elevation of highways minister Nitin Gadkari to handle the overarching transport portfolio that includes the railway ministry. Railway minister Suresh Prabhu is in the line of fire because of frequent train accidents. There are likely to be several new faces. The most notable include picks from the BJP party functionaries. These include: general secretaries Ram Madhav, Bhupendra Yadav, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Prahlad Patel Himanta Biswa Sarma, Anurag Thakur, Shobha Karandlaje, Maheish Girri and Prahlad Joshi.
From the allies quota, Nitish Kumar Janata Dal (U) will get berths in Team Modi with its leaders RCP Singh who is a Rajya Sabha MP and Santosh Kumar, a Lok Sabha member. AIADMK‘s Thambidurai is expected to join the cabinet as well along with P. Venugopal and V. Maitreyan. Among the allies, TDP’s Ashok Gajapathi Raju may be shifted from the civil aviation ministry, which could be merged with the railway ministry. PM Modi’s current team has 73 members — including the PM—and there is a cap on the number of ministers which cannot exceed 81 as the rules say that the cabinet strength cannot exceed 15 per cent of Lok Sabha’s 545 seats.
The three states going to the polls – Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat – will also get representation on the BJP quota. Union health minister JP Nadda is likely to be sent to Himachal Pradesh as chief ministerial candidate. There will be a replacement from Himachal Pradesh.
The BJP had faced a fiasco in Gujarat in Rajya Sabha election where it could not stop Congress' master strategist Ahmed Patel from getting a berth in the Upper House.
There is going to be some rationalisation of ministries. Like an overarching transport ministry, fertilizers portfolio is going to be merged with Agriculture. This is the third reshuffle by the PM.