Cabinet reshuffle on Sunday, more new faces likely

At least 10 new faces could be inducted into the Union Council of Ministers on Sunday when Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertakes an expansion and reshuffle of his ministry, said to be crucial ahead of assembly elections in some states and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The swearing-in ceremony has been fixed for 10.30 a.m. at the Rashtrapati Bhawan, a slight change from 10 a.m. that was originally planned. Prime Minister Narendra Modi held discussions with BJP chief Amit Shah late in the evening to give finishing touches to the exercise.

Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari also met Modi. He refused to comment on speculation that he was being shifted to railways, saying it was the Prime Minister’s prerogative to induct and drop ministers.

Though there has been no official word on the changes that are likely, there is speculation that the Prime Minister could appoint a Defence Minister since the portfolio has been with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley as additional charge.

Three Ministers — Rajiv Pratap Rudy (Skill Development), Kalraj Mishra (Micro, Small, Medium Enterprises) and Sanjeev Balyan (Water Resources) — have already resigned and about a half-a-dozen are believed to have offered to resign.

Apart from naming a new Defence Minister, Modi could shift Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu to some other ministry like environment while possibly dropping Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh whose performance is said to be lacklustre. Prabhu had offered to resign late last month after two back-to-back train derailments, including in Muzaffarnagar in which over 20 people lost their lives.

Manoj Sinha, Minister of State in Railways, is being tipped to be promoted as the Railway Minister. Like Sinha, Power Minister Piyush Goyal and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan are likely to promoted as cabinet ministers in their portfolios. Pradhan had a meeting with Shah in the evening, like Delhi MP Pravesh Verma, who was also called.

Some reshuffle of the portfolios are likely with ministers, including Narendra Singh Tomar and Smriti Irani, holding additional charges. Tomar, who is Rural Development Minister, holds additional charge of Urban Development while Textiles Minister Irani holds additional charge of Information and Broadcasting.

With elections approaching in Himachal Pradesh, Health Minister J.P. Nadda may be shifted to the state, and be projected as a chief ministerial candidate.

The new faces likely to join the union government include Bhupendra Yadav or O.P. Mathur (both Rajya Sabha members from Rajasthan), Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, (Rajya Sabha member from Madhya Pradesh) and Satyapal Singh, Prahlad Patel, Nishikant Dubey and Pravesh Verma (all Lok Sabha).

Some election-bound states, including Congress-ruled Karnataka, could get greater representation in the Council of Ministers. Prahlad Joshi and Suresh Angadi, both MPs from Karnataka, could make a debut at the Centre. Likewise, Anurag Thakur, Lok Sabha member from Hamirpur in Himachal Pradesh, could get the nod. Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections are due later this year, while Karnataka Assembly polls are slated for next year.

Ally Shiv Sena may get one more berth with Anil Desai, a Rajya Sabha member, making the grade. However, the other new ally AIADMK, about which much has been speculated, is unlikely to get berths for now in view of the fact that the party is undergoing a period of crisis.

The reshuffle is mostly likely to see the entry of Janata Dal-United (JD-U) nominees into the ministry but party President and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar kept the suspense up, saying no proposal has yet come to him for inclusion in the union cabinet. If the party gets a call, Rajya Sabha MP R.C.P. Singh and Lok Sabha member from Purnea, Santosh Kumar, are likely to be inducted.

Kalraj Mishra, 77, claimed that he was not being dropped as Union Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises because of performance but on grounds of age.

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