Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla and G M Siddeswara, Minister of State for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, have been dropped from the Union council of ministers. Heptulla is the first Cabinet minister to have been dropped in the two-year term of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led council of ministers. A statement from the President said Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Heptulla’s junior at the minority affairs ministry, would now have independent charge of the ministry. Babul Supriyo, a minister of state, has been shifted from the ministry of urban development to heavy industries and public enterprises.Heptulla, an aspirant for the post of the Vice President of India, could get a gubernatorial assignment. Governors to a few states are likely to be announced later this week. Vice Presidential elections are due for August 2017. Heptulla’s Rajya Sabha term ends in April 2018, which she would need to quit if she were to take up any gubernatorial role. “I am extremely thankful to the PM for giving me the honour to be in his Cabinet and I tried best to fulfil his expectations towards Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas,” Heptulla tweeted. After three decades in the Congress, Heptulla, who holds a PhD in cardiac anatomy, had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2004 is a known L K Advani acolyte. “I will always be available for any responsibility given to me in future. I have resigned from my post due to personal reasons,” said Heptulla. With these two resignations, the strength of the council of ministers is now 76. The number of ministers cannot exceed 82. Government sources claimed both Heptulla and Siddeswara had been asked to quit as part of the Cabinet expansion and reshuffle on July 5, but they could not do so as they were out of Delhi. And, the two submitted their resignations as soon as the PM returned after his four-nation Africa tour. However, other sources say Siddeswara was asked to quit as his performance was found to be poor.
But, the 64-year-old Lok Sabha member from Karnataka’s Devangere had organised a public rally in his constituency on July 5, also his birthday, and requested the leadership that he be spared the ignominy of being dropped on the day of his birthday. Heptulla’s case is a more curious. She had turned 76 on April 13 this year. In constituting his council of ministers in May 2014, Modi had kept out all party leaders above 75 years of age. Now, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Minister Kalraj Mishra, who is 75, is the oldest minister. He is an important Brahmin leader of Uttar Pradesh, which is slated to go to polls in early 2017. Sources close to Heptulla told Business Standard she was very much in New Delhi on the eve of the reshuffle. She had not only “heaved a sigh of relief” that she wasn’t dropped but had started planning projects that she thought her ministry should take up with renewed vigour. After the reshuffle, Heptulla went to Chicago to celebrate Eid with her daughter. The sources said Heptulla considers it a ‘betrayal’ that she was dropped now in such a manner, although senior leaders have phoned her indicating remaining out of the government for a year would be tactically good for her Vice Presidential bid.Heptulla is a veteran Rajya Sabha member. A Dawoodi Bohra Muslim from Bhopal, Heptulla was handpicked by the then PM Indira Gandhi in the 1980s and served in key positions in the Congress party and as Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha in the 1980s and 1990s. She quit the Congress in 2004 and was accepted in the BJP with open arms. Her being a known Advani camp follower - although she read the tea leaves early enough to become a Modi supporter in 2013 - is remembered by the current leadership.