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Cabinet expansion: Sena to attend swearing-in; 20 ministers likely to join Modi’s team

New Delhi: In the first cabinet expansion exercise after assuming power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to induct around 20 ministers into his council on Sunday in a move that is likely to give a big push to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh – with an eye on elections – and reward Maharashtra and Haryana for delivering decisive victories for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the recent assembly polls.

Cabinet expansion: Sena to attend swearing-in; 20 ministers likely to join Modi’s team

Goa CM Manohar Parrikar may replace Arun Jaitley as defence minister after cabinet rejig. (Sameer Sehgal/HT File Photo)
Before the exercise, Modi held discussions with the new ministers over tea at 7, Race Course Road, his official residence. List of the ministers to take oath was sent to the Rashtrapati Bhavan earlier in the day.

The Shiv Sena, which is locked in a tug of war with the BJP over share of ministerial berths in Maharashtra, is likely to attend the oath-taking in a sign of rapprochement, according to TV reports.

Unresolved differences between the estranged allies had earlier threatened to spill over into the Modi government’s first reshuffle after Union minister Anant Geete, Sena’s lone representative in the Centre, left for Mumbai on Saturday without meeting the Prime Minister.

But on Sunday there were reports that the party’s Rajya Sabha MP, Anil Desai, its pick for a post in the Union council of ministers, was on his to Delhi to attend the swearing-in. Sena’s Suresh Prabhu too reportedly joined Modi over tea ahead of oath-taking ceremony. The breakthrough came after BJP president Amit Shah held talks with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, NDTV reported.

The big appointment of the day could be that of Manohar Parrikar as defence minister. The 58-year-old resigned as Goa chief minister on Saturday, making his cabinet move almost a certainty.

Parrikar had earlier said that the BJP leadership had told him to accept an assignment at the Centre if it was offered.

“It is the prerogative of the Prime Minister. However, I would like to inform that the party has indicated to me that if such assignment comes, you should accept it.”

Meanwhile, confirming his induction, BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy tweeted, “It is a privilege to be a part of PM Modi’s cabinet as a MoS (Independent Charge) to serve the Nation.” Rudy, the party’s Maharashtra in-charge, is credited with scripting its victory in the recent state polls.

Government sources said that the reshuffled team would likely be unveiled at 1.30pm on Sunday, two days before Modi leaves on a three-nation, 10-day tour. President Pranab Mukherjee, who will swear the ministers in, returned on Saturday from a trip to Bhutan.

A TDP representative in the Union cabinet is certain. The PM has over the last two days been calling up those who would be joining his government.

Bihar – which has three cabinet ministers and a minister of state (MoS) – will get three more berths. Apart from BJP general secretary Rudy, Nawada MP Giriraj Singh – a vocal Modi supporter in the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U)-BJP government – and Patliputra MP Ram Kripal Yadav – a former Lalu loyalist who defeated the RJD chief’s daughter Misa Bharti in the Lok Sabha polls – may be made ministers of state.

Bihar goes to poll in September-October next year and the BJP faces a JD(U)-RJD-Congress super alliance there.

Rajya Sabha MP Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi is a certain name from UP. Fatehpur MP Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti and Gautam Buddha Nagar MP Dr Mahesh Sharma are also set to be made MoS.

Besides Modi, the Varanasi MP, the council of ministers has four cabinet ministers and MoS each from the country’s most populous state. The BJP-Apna Dal alliance had won 73 of its 80 seats in the general elections and is aiming to wrest power from the Samajwadi Party in the 2017 assembly polls.

Maharashtra, where the BJP has just formed a government, will get at least three more ministers. Hansraj Gangaram Ahir is tipped to get coal while Prabhu may get an infrastructure-related ministry.

Haryana, with two MoS-rank ministers in Team Modi, may get one more representation. Chaudhary Birender Singh, who switched over from the Congress ahead of last month’s assembly polls, may be inducted. That would make him the BJP’s sole Jat face in the state.

Asansol MP Babul Supriyo is almost certain to become West Bengal’s first representative in the Modi government. Himachal Pradesh could similarly get its first central minister with both Rajya Sabha MP JP Nadda and Shimla MP Virendra Kashyap strong contenders.

Rajasthan, where the BJP’s strong show meant the Congress couldn’t muster up a single Lok Sabha seat, has one MoS-rank minister and Ajmer MP Sanwar Lal Jat is likely to the next addition. The BJP’s lone MP from Telangana, Bandaru Dattatrey, will also be inducted.

However, there was no clarity on Uttarakhand, which also has no representation in the Centre. Almora MP Ajay Tamta, a scheduled caste leader, and Nainital MP Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, a former chief minister, were among the probables.

Sunday’s exercise is also aimed at easing the burden on seven cabinet ministers holding multiple portfolios. Road transport and shipping minister Nitin Gadkari holds charge of rural development too while law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad takes care of IT and communications. Then there is Prakash Javadekar (environment, I&B), Piyush Goyal (power, coal and mines), Narendra Singh Tomar (steel, labour), Venkaiah Naidu (parliamentary affairs, urban development), and Nirmala Sitharaman (finance MoS, commerce independent charge). Sitharaman and Javadekar are tipped to be promoted to cabinet rank.

However, finance minister Arun Jaitley may get an additional portfolio after being divested of defence. The portfolios of some ministers are also likely to be changed since they haven’t lived up to the PM’s expectations.

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