Cabinet reshuffle this week, eye on coming polls, Covid control

While there is no official confirmation, the Cabinet reshuffle is likely to be held later this week in the run-up to Parliament's monsoon session scheduled to begin July 19.

More than two years after he returned to a second term, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to revamp his Council of Ministers, a move that is expected to take into consideration issues of governance during the pandemic and the imperatives of the upcoming state elections, sources said.

While there is no official confirmation, the Cabinet reshuffle is likely to be held later this week in the run-up to Parliament’s monsoon session scheduled to begin July 19.

The reshuffle has been the subject of much speculation, especially after the Prime Minister last month launched an exercise of assessing the performance of key ministries. As part of that, he held a series of meetings with senior ministers and the party leadership last month. Many of these meetings were attended by BJP president J P Nadda.

Party sources said the second wave of the pandemic, during which the government came in for vehement criticism for its alleged failure in managing the situation, will be as much a factor as the coming Assembly elections, especially in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh.

With the UP state unit of the BJP in turmoil due to the alleged failure of the government in managing the Covid situation and a section of party leaders speaking out against the Yogi Adityanath government, the BJP leadership is believed to be keen on a “balancing act” while restructuring the Council of Ministers.

The political situation in other poll-bound states, including Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Manipur and Goa, is also expected to be factored in while drawing up the final list of ministers.

Party sources said political developments over the last two years are also likely to influence the reshuffle process. Jyotiraditya Scindia, whose entry into the BJP with almost two dozen Congress MLAs helped the party come to power in Madhya Pradesh, and Sarbananda Sonowal, who was replaced by Himanta Biswa Sarma as Assam Chief Minister, are expected to find a place in the Modi government.

While Modi can have up to 81 members in his government (15% of the Lok Sabha strength), the current strength of the Council of Ministers stands at 53 and the PM is likely to induct around a dozen more ministers.

With at least two allies — Shiv Sena and SAD — having left the NDA since 2019, the Prime Minister and the BJP are expected to give coalition partners more room in the Council of Ministers. While the JD(U), which had initially decided to stay away, has expressed its desire to be part of the government, LJP is also expected to get a berth.

With infighting in the LJP after five of its six MPs removed Chirag Paswan, son of late Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, from the post of leader in the Lok Sabha, it will be interesting to see who from the party gets accommodated in the government. BJP’s Uttar Pradesh ally Apna Dal is also expected to find a place in the government.

On June 30, the Prime Minister addressed his Council of Ministers and asked them to work hard to ensure there is no third wave of the pandemic and urged them to counter Opposition allegations against the government’s handling of the pandemic.

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