Narendra Modi may reshuffle Cabinet after Parliament session; new defence minister key priority

After overwhelming BJP victories in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, and the party also stealing a march over the opposition by forming governments in Goa and Manipur, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to reshuffle the Union Cabinet at the end of the ongoing Parliament session, on 12 April, according to news reports.

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

The Times of India reported that some fresh faces are expected to be inducted in the Cabinet. The vacancy created by Manohar Parrikar moving out of New Delhi to become the next Goa chief minister means a new face will be appointed as defence minister. This will also ease the burden on Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who was given additional charge of the Defence portfolio. Defence and finance are both ministries with "heavy workload", and having Jaitley handle the two simultaneously was not ideal.

This isn't the first time that Jaitley was given additional charge of defence: he was previously assigned this portfolio after the BJP's crushing victory in the 2014 general elections. However, the arrangement didn't last long and Parrikar, the then Goa chief minister, was assigned the Defence Ministry.

A senior government source was quoted as saying in The Times of India report that Jaitley having both defence and finance ministries was an unworkable arrangement in the long-term, as it created a classic conflict of interest. In his capacity as finance minister, Jaitley might be called upon to adjudicate financial matters as raised by the Defence Ministry, which is avoidable.

According to a report in The Hindu, Modi is expected to ring in the changes: at least one chief minister of a BJP-ruled state in North India might be moved to New Delhi, while a senior general secretary from the BJP's central team may be sent there as a replacement CM.

The source told The Hindu that Modi was looking at how certain BJP-ruled states were being run. The source gave the example of Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje possibly being considered for a tenure in the national capital, and party general secretary Om Mathur, who is from Rajashtan, being sent there in her stead.

However, the Indian Express reported that such changes were unlikely to happen anytime soon. A source told the publication that Modi was, for now, keeping his cards close to his chest. The source also said Home Minister Rajnath Singh has denied he is being moved to Uttar Pradesh.

"The Cabinet reshuffle, whenever it happens, will be a major one, as just 26 months are left in the government's tenure. It will likely be done with an eye on the government's economic performance, which will be more important for the prime minister in 2019 than the historic victories of 2017," the source said.

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Updated Date: Mar 21, 2017 15:12:25 IST

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