The much-awaited reshuffle in the Modi cabinet will take place on Sunday in which about half-a-dozen ministers are expected to make way for several new faces, including those from the BJP’s allies.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will undertake the third and probably last major recasting of his council of ministers before the next Lok Sabha polls in 2019 and the exercise is being seen as a balancing act between his thrust on merit and demands of realpolitik.
“A process has been set in motion for the swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan at around 10 am on Sunday,” a top government official said.
Four junior ministers – Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Sanjiv Kumar Balyan, Faggan Singh Kulaste and Mahendra Nath Pandey – have resigned ahead of the rejig. The party had asked them to quit.
Two cabinet ministers, Uma Bharti and Kalraj Mishra, have also offered to resign, said BJP sources amid speculations that there may be a few more exits. Bharti, who is the water resources minister, said only Shah or anyone on his behalf can speak on the issue.
“The media sought my reaction on reports in circulation since yesterday. I have said that I have not heard the question, will not hear nor will I answer it,” she tweeted.
Shah had met Modi on Thursday and the two leaders are understood to have finalised the changes in the council of ministers.
Arun Jaitley, who currently holds the charge of two heavyweight portfolios — finance and defence, may retain only one, sources said.
Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu, who had taken moral responsibility for a string of train accidents and indicated his willingness to resign, may be moved to another ministry, the sources said.
More incumbents can also be moved to other ministries.
BJP general secretary Bhupender Yadav, party’s vice president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Prahlad Patel, Suresh Angadi, Satyapal Singh, Himanta Biswa Sarma and Prahlad Joshi are being talked about within the party as probable ministers.
With the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) also likely to join the government, its leaders R C P Singh, who is its parliamentary party leader in the Rajya Sabha, and Santosh Kumar are the likely picks from the new NDA constituent.
AIADMK leader Thambidurai had met Shah yesterday, and he, besides party leaders P Venugopal and V Maitreyan, may be the likely representatives from the Tamil Nadu party if it decides to join the government. However, the southern party has not confirmed it so far.
There are also talks of a greater representation from existing allies like the TDP and the Shiv Sena.
The current strength of the council of ministers, including the prime minister, is 73 and the maximum number of ministers cannot go beyond 81.
According to a constitutional amendment, the limit cannot exceed beyond 15 per cent of the total strength of the Lok Sabha, which is 545.
While there are some vacancies, a number of senior ministers are also holding dual portfolios.
Besides Jaitley, Harsh Vardhan, Smriti Irani and Narendra Singh Tomar are handling additional charges.
After assuming office in May 2014, Modi expanded his council of ministers twice — first on November 9 in 2014 and then on July 05 in 2016.