Union Cabinet rejig today

New Delhi : Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to reshuffle and expand his Cabinet on Wednesday evening, official sources said.

The much-awaited exercise was slated for 2020 but had to be deferred repeatedly owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A slew of gubernatorial appointments, including that of Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thawarchand Gehlot as the Governor of Karnataka on Tuesday, the arrival of BJP leaders Sarbananda Sonowal, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Narayan Rane in the National Capital and cancellation of weekly Cabinet meeting strengthened the speculations.

Also, the government has decided to create a separate ‘Ministry of Cooperation’ with the aim of ‘Sahkar se Samriddhi’ (prosperity through cooperatives).

Of the 81 slots of the council of ministers, 52 are filled by the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre.

As per the sources, the top brass of the BJP conducted extensive meetings with several ministers and prepared a report card after the devastating second wave of COVID-19 which left the government in an embarrassing situation.

Another reason for rejigging is elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Manipur next year as the BJP wants to play well after miserable defeat in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala in May this year, the sources said.

Senior leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, including its chief Mohan Bhagwat, were in Delhi last week, possibly to discuss the Cabinet rejig with the BJP.

According to sources, the government wants to accommodate allies, young faces and state leaders known for good governance. There is also a buzz for about politicians from OBC and Dalit communities and more women faces, to factor in caste and gender balance.

Mr Modi, may also induct people from academics or bureaucracy into his Cabinet, like External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs Hardeep Singh Puri.

Speculations are rife about Jyotiraditya Scindia, who left the Congress in 2020 and joined the BJP along with several other Madhya Pradesh MLAs from Congress, leading to the downfall of Kamal Nath-led government in MP and reinstatement of Shivraj Chauhan-led BJP government.

Sarbananda Sonowal, former Assam chief minister, who left the top post for Hemant Sarma in recent elections is another name.

Pashupati Paras, uncle of Chirag Paswan, who left Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and formed his own party with several leaders from LJP also features among the probable candidates, sources said.

Other possible names doing rounds are– former Bihar chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, former chief minister of Maharashtra Narayan Rane, national president of Janata Dal RCP Singh, BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Bhupendra Yadav, BJP spokesperson and Rajya Sabha member Anil Baluni, national spokesperson of BJP and Rajya Sabha MO Sudhanshu Trivedi, member of Upper House and BJP leader Ashwani Vaishnav, Rajya Sabha MP and BJP leader G V L Narasimha Rao and national general of the BJP B L Santosh.

This will be the first cabinet reshuffle in the second term of Mr Modi as the Prime Minister. The previous reshuffle was conducted in 2017 when Nirmala Sitharaman was made the Defence Minister.