Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-awaited cabinet expansion is likely to take place in a couple of days and his selection of names is seen greatly influenced by the polls in five states next year and the 2024 national election.
This is the first cabinet expansion in his second tenure as prime minister.
Modi is expected to reward Jyotiraditya Scindia, whose defection from the Congress last year helped the BJP take back Madhya Pradesh; and Sarbananda Sonowal, who made way for Himanta Biswa Sarma as Assam Chief Minister after the BJP won a second term.
In what would constitute a betrayal as far as Chirag Paswan is concerned, his uncle Pashupati Paras, who led a coup against him and split the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) last month, may scoop up the slot left vacant by the death of Ram Vilas Paswan – Chirag’s father – last year.
Despite furious speculation, it is not clear yet whether another ally, Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United, will finally join the Union Cabinet. In 2019, the upset Bihar Chief Minister had rejected the BJP’s offer of one ministry and had opted to stay out. Sources say Mr Kumar is hoping for at least two ministries. JDU leaders Lallan Singh, Ramnath Thakur and Santosh Kushwaha are reportedly in the running.
Bihar leader Sushil Modi, Maharashtra leader Narayan Rane and Bhupendra Yadav, a veteran leader in charge of Bihar and Gujarat, are also likely to join the Modi cabinet.
Names have been shortlisted after a month-long review in which PM Modi assessed the performance of various ministries.
Sources say politically vital Uttar Pradesh, which will vote for a new government next year, is likely to be well-represented in this round.
Varun Gandhi, Ramshankar Katheria, Anil Jain, Rita Bahuguna Joshi and Zafar Islam are said to have cabinet spots lined up.
BJP’s Uttar Pradesh ally Apna Dal’s Anupriya Patel may also be invited.
From Uttarakhand, Ajay Bhatt or Anil Baluni may be up for ministries. Pratap Simha is likely to represent Karnataka.
Modi is also likely to include leaders from Bengal, where the party recently lost a nerve-wracking election to Mamata Banerjee. Jagannath Sarkar, Shantanu Thakur and Nitheet Pramaanik are the names in circulation.
Other possibilities are – Brijendra Singh (Haryana), Rahul Kaswan (Rajasthan), Ashwani Vaishnav (Odisha), Poonam Mahajan or Pritam Munde (Maharashtra) and Parvesh Varma or Meenakshi Lekhi (Delhi).
The PM, Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP chief JP Nadda held a series of review meetings to zero in on the names, say sources. The exercise promises to be a carefully calibrated one, with sharp focus on the next Lok Sabha election, in which PM Modi will seek a third term in office.
The performance of all ministries was extensively reviewed, particularly how they fared in the devastating second wave of Covid.
Nine ministers with additional charge may shed extra ministries – Prakash Javadekar, Piyush Goyal, Dharmendra Pradhan, Nitin Gadkari, Harsh Vardhan, Narendra Singh Tomar, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Smriti Irani and Hardeep Singh Puri.
The Union Cabinet can have 81 members and currently there are 53 ministers. This means 28 ministers can be added.
With inputs from NDTV