Cabinet reshuffle tomorrow: With 'Big Four' immune, will the exercise be purely cosmetic? - Firstpost
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Cabinet reshuffle tomorrow: With 'Big Four' immune, will the exercise be purely cosmetic?

Editor's Note:  This article was originally published on 29 June 2016. It is being updated in light of the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to announce the cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday.

With eyes on Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday is expected to factor in the BJP's political strategy in Uttar Pradesh. Some new ministers will take oath at about 11 am on Tuesday at the Rashtrapati  Bhavan and sources told ANI at least two more faces from Uttar Pradesh may join the Cabinet.

Suspense is thick in the air in the power corridors of New Delhi. What will be the magnitude of the Cabinet rejig scheduled for Tuesday? Will it be a major one, based on mid-term performance review, and interlink the reshuffle and organisational restructuring in the BJP? Or will it be only cosmetic, filling out some vacancies here and there and making some basic changes?

After talking to a host of senior leaders in the BJP, including some ministers and higher functionaries in the government, Firstpost got a sense that none of 'Big Four' – Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, will be touched.

The Narendra Modi cabinet. AFP

The Narendra Modi government. AFP

The Prime Minister is broadly satisfied with their performance and positioning and thus, does not intend them and the consequent existing hierarchical order to change.

But that does not mean that the Cabinet reshuffle would not be a major overhaul exercise. In fact, even as the decision on the magnitude of the Cabinet reshuffle-cum-expansion would be decided only between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, an internal debate, albeit private is on among senior leaders on the subject.

While many leaders think that it would be a minor exercise, there are strong arguments suggesting a major exercise, which should send a message across that PM Modi means business, and is unsparing to non-performers.

“The PM has assessed the working of his ministers in last two years and knows how work is progressing in all ministries, more so in core areas of larger popular concern. The government is on the right track, we had much to boast about on completion of two years in power, but there is lot more to do – speed up delivery of goods and services on the ground. That could be done only if right men and women are in right places," a senior leader said.

"While it is clear that the top four ministers wouldn’t be touched, the Cabinet reshuffle would be a good opportunity for the Prime Minister to convey a message within his party and to people all across that he means business and remains to be a tough task master”, the senior leader said.

Conventional wisdom suggests that new ministers need at least one month to three weeks’ time to adjust with new ministerial positions, and accordingly face the parliament.

“Honestly, when will the Cabinet reshuffle take place, nobody in the party and in the government knows. We all are guided by our wisdom and on some informed speculations among ourselves. Sirf Pradhan Mantri Modi ji ya Param Pita Parmeshwar jante hain ki asal me reshuffle kab hoga. (Only Prime Minister Modi or Supreme God knows when it would actually happen) But it is also a fact that party’s restructuring and reshuffle, to an extent, are linked”, a senior leader who had earlier been a minister said.

Modi is already through two major executive decision announcements – of 100 percent FDI in some critical sectors including defence and civil aviation, and the Seventh Pay Commission – and its time he could concentrate on rejig in his council of ministers which currently has 65 members.

It is also clear that it would be a BJP-centric induction, or shuffle of packs. The allies would not have any more cheers.

There is one clear vacancy: Sarbanand Sonowal, who left union Cabinet to become Assam chief minister. Minority affairs minister Najma Heptullah is past the 75-year cut off age. MoS Vijay Sampala has been made Punjab BJP chief, and thus could be divested of ministerial charge; controversial MoS from Rajasthan Nihal Chand could face axe and pave way to some new faces from Rajasthan including chief whip Arjun Meghwal.

Apna Dal leader, and ally Anupriya Patel was seen on the dais in Modi’s Allahabad rally, and it is widely speculated that she could gain entry in the government. The sole Muslim face in the Government, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, could be elevated to the Minister of State (Independent) rank.

There are also talks that Shiv Pratap Shukla, who has been brought by the BJP to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh in last month's election, could be made a minister. Shukla is a senior UP leader and a Brahmin, a big votebank in the state that all parties are vying for in these elections.

Surface transport and shipping minister Nitin Gadkari, Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu, power and coal minister Piyush Goyal, Telecommunication Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Chemical and Fertiliser minister Ananth Kumar, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan are taken to be the best performing ministers, and should see no changes.

Agriculture, rural development and water resources are ministries where the leadership has certain concerns. Given the limited talent bench strength, Modi has quite a task at hand.

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