News agency Reuters made a monumental prediction. The report quoted sources inside the ministry and said that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will be moved out of the Finance Ministry and his protege and current Power and Coal Minister Piyush Goel will succeed him.
If that were to happen it would mean that Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes the world know of three things. Firstly, making public his vote of low confidence against one of his senior-most colleague in the Cabinet, secondly an admission to the fact that Jaitley was under performing in the finance ministry and he is the one who is to be blamed for the poor economic growth that has been widely criticised and thirdly a late realisation that Jaitley was a wrong choice in the finance ministry to begin with when he was given charge of this all important ministry in summer of 2014.
Reuters report's prediction that Jaitley will be shifted to the Defence Ministry also then raises the question where will the incumbent Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar be moved.
Parikkar was handpicked by Modi to head this critical ministry. Quick decision-making on external and internal defence matters and several acquisitions which were waiting to be made for the armed forces were a few of the reasons why the choice of Parrikar as the Defence Minister seemed poised. In fact, Parikkar, so far, had performed well and taken bold and tough decisions where needed.
Removal of a performing minister, who is also part of the Cabinet Committee of Security is an idea that can't be speculated at speculators' personal peril. Arun Jaitely is among five ministers at the Centre. Never before a minister who had been part of the CCS, or an occupant of North and South Bloc in Capital has been shifted to less significant ministries located below the majestic Raisina Hill.
Jaitley's move from the finance ministry, as predicted by Reuters, is not a very good idea, unless Modi is deeply frustrated with him. Moreover, given the manner in which DDCA controversy has played out, Jaitley dropping from finance ministry would give a handle to Congress and AAP to browbeat Modi and the BJP. Can Modi afford that?
Changing the Finance Minister after he presents the budget on 29 February is not the best idea for Modi. And the PM could take a few lessons from his predecessors.
In July 2002, Vajpayee swapped the ministries of External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha. However, Jaswant Singh was always Vajpayee's first choice as the Finance Minister. During the rule of UPA-II, P Chidambaram was shifted from Finance to Home ministry and Pranab Mukherjee was shifted from External Affairs Ministry to Finance Ministry.
While the idea of a Cabinet reshuffle — dropping off under or non-performing ministers and induction of fresh talent — is being massively speculated among the party. Probably BJP needs this reshuffle too after the massive drubbing they received during the Bihar assembly elections.
Under Modi, gone are the days when aspirants used to lobby with various power centres. And so it is risky to speculate on who will get which portfolio in case of a Cabinet reshuffle unless the confirmation comes from the top rungs of the party. However, one cannot squarely reject the Reuters report as there have been talks of a possible reshuffle in the ruling BJP. Whether the decision will be before the Union Budget or after that, has not been taken yet.
The calendar suggests that Amit Shah will be re-elected as BJP president on 24 January and is expected to leave for Howrah to address a public rally on 25 January. Republic Day celebrations starts after that and will continue till 30 January. In case the announcement of reshuffle happens before the Union Budget is presented on the 29 February, there is a small time-frame for the new ministers to understand their ministries.
Whatever be the case, one thing is for sure: BJP's organisational structure needs some better talent and the restructuring of the party and the government may have to go hand in hand.