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Modi Cabinet heads for reshuffle as Naidu steps down, 2019 LS polls near

Reshuffle likely after conclusion of presidential elections and the Monsoon session

Archis Mohan  |  New Delhi 

Cabinet Reshuffle
Representative image

In its three-year tenure, the council of ministers has had two Cabinet reshuffles and expansions — in November 2014 and July 2016. A third expansion and reshuffle is in the offing with less than two years to go for the and a need being felt to reinvigorate the Union Cabinet. A has also become necessary to fill several vacancies. 

The is likely to occur after the new President and Vice-President of the country have been elected and the Monsoon session of Parliament has been concluded. The new Vice-President is to be sworn in on August 10, while the Monsoon session ends on August 11.

The absence of a full-time defence minister has been felt acutely after the military stand-off between India and China in Doka La, called Doklam by the Chinese. The Modi government has not had a full-time defence minister since Manohar Parrikar moved to Goa as chief minister. Finance Minister currently handles the portfolio but has his hands full with the Goods and Services Tax (GST) roll-out. 

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is also battling a weak bench strength and it remains to be seen if PM Modi and chief get one of BJP's chief ministers to the Centre. While Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan remains popular in his state despite the recent farmers' protests there, Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh and Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje are thought to be on weaker wickets in the face of a resurgent Congress party in the two states. Elections are due in these three states in December 2018, five months before the

M Venkaiah Naidu is set to be elected the next Vice-President of India. On Monday, Naidu quit his two portfolios — minister for housing and urban affairs and information and broadcasting. These two vacancies would also need to be filled.

After Anil Madhav Dave passed away on May 18, Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan has handled the additional charge of Dave's ministerial portfolio of environment, forests and climate change. The vacancy at the Environment Ministry needs to be filled. Elections are also due in Himachal Pradesh by the end of the year. Health Minister JP Nadda could move to the hill state as its chief minister, which would leave a vacancy at the Health Ministry.

A reshuffle and expansion of the council of ministers has become necessary, feels top leadership in the government and the BJP, as key portfolio minders, particularly those dealing with social sectors, need to pull their weight for the Economic ministries, for their part, are seen to have done well so far.

Vacancies could be filled by inducting performing ministers from BJP-ruled state governments and party general secretaries. A couple of general secretaries, who have helped the party score recent electoral wins and consolidated the organisation in some of its weaker areas in the Northeast and south, could be accommodated. Party General Secretaries Ram Madhav and Bhupender Yadav could prove to be assets in the council of ministers. Madhav has not just helped with BJP's electoral victories in the Northeastern states but also contributed to Modi government's diplomatic and diaspora outreach. Yadav, a lawyer, has helped revitalise party organisations and election preparedness.

From now to April, as many as 70 seats will fall vacant in the Rajya Sabha and the new inductees to the council of ministers can be elected to the Upper House within the requisite six months. Other considerations in the reshuffle would be the coming legislative Assembly polls in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, and Karnataka.

It is possible that Karnataka will get more representation in the council of ministers, just as Bihar did a year before the Assembly polls in that state in November 2015. Similarly, several MPs from Uttar Pradesh were inducted into the ministry in July 2016, in view of the Assembly polls there in early 2017. Elections are due in Karnataka in May 2018, while Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh go to the polls at the end of this year.

The reshuffle would also seek to promote performing ministers who currently have independent charges of their portfolios and to find a successor to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Minister Kalraj Mishra, who turned 76 on July 1. An unwritten rule of the Modi-led ministry has been to include only those below 75 years of age. 

Some performers are likely to be promoted to Cabinet rank. For their contribution to the BJP’s emphatic electoral win in Uttar Pradesh, the performance of Power and Coal Minister Piyush Goyal and Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan has drawn praise from the PM and chief Pradhan and Goyal are currently ministers of state with independent charge. Some others ministers of state with independent charge are Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Telecom Minister Manoj Sinha, and Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

Currently, the Union Council of Ministers has 73 members, including the PM. The first Cabinet expansion and reshuffle took place on November 9, 2014, and the second on July 5, 2016. According to Article 72 of the Constitution, the total number of ministers, including the PM, in the council shall not exceed 15 per cent of the number of members of the House of the People. This is applicable to both the Centre and states. Therefore, the maximum numbers of ministers that the Cabinet can contain is 82.

First Published: Tue, July 18 2017. 10:21 IST