PM Narendra Modi meets President; Cabinet expansion likely on Sunday
Amid speculation over Cabinet reshuffle, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday met President Pranab Mukherjee.
New Delhi: An expansion of the Union Council of Ministers will be undertaken on Sunday in which about 10 new faces, including Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, are likely to be inducted in an exercise that may also cover some allies.
Indications are that the reshuffle could take place around 1.30 PM on Sunday, two days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves on a three-nation 10-day tour. By then, President Pranab Mukherjee would have also returned on Saturday from a trip to Bhutan.
There is a possibility some ministers with independent charge could be elevated in the first recasting of his ministry Modi will be undertaking since he assumed power in May.
Parrikar, who is tipped to get defence portfolio, went as far as to indicate the sure possibility of his induction when he said he will take up the responsibility at the Centre "if the nation requires" his services.
Among the names doing the rounds for induction are Jayant Sinha, son of former Union minister Yashwant Sinha, Anurag Thakur from Himachal Pradesh, Jat leader from Haryana Birender Singh, Bhumiar leader from Bihar Giriraj Singh or Bhola Singh, Col Sonaram Chaudhary and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, both of Rajasthan, and Hansraj Ahir from Maharashtra.
The IIT-Mumbai graduate and a man with a clean image, Parrikar had a meeting with Modi and BJP President Amit Shah yesterday and he met party MLAs in Panaji today, possibly discussing his successor.
He said Shah had asked him to take up an assignment at the Centre, if offered, and made it clear that he was willing to shoulder the responsibility.
"Party President Amit Shah spoke to me in the morning and asked me to accept any assignment that would be given by the Prime Minister," he told reporters.
However, Parrikar did not disclose whether Modi had offered him the defence portfolio during their meeting yesterday.
"I want to give proper information as far as joining the cabinet is concerned. It is the prerogative of the Prime Minister. However, I would like to inform you that the party has indicated to me that if such assignment comes, you should accept it," he said.
There was further activity in the political circles with TDP leader and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu apparently getting a telephone call from Modi when he was in the midst of a programme at the India Economic Summit here.
Asked about the call and the cabinet expansion, he only remarked that everything will be known in a couple of days. When pressed further, he repeated the same answer but added in a lighter vein, "He is trying to seek information from me and I am trying to hide information from him."
There was speculation about Shiv Sena leader and former Union minister Suresh Prabhu, who has already been appointed as Modi's Sherpa for the G-20 summit. Prabhu may be appointed as the head of the new organisation that will replace the Planning Commission and he may get cabinet rank.
There was talk that a Sena nominee may be brought in as minister of state but sources said it depended on sorting out of issues between the saffron issues in Maharashtra.
A number of ministers are currently holding additional charge of crucial portfolios.
The defence portfolio is currently held as an additional charge by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who also has Corporate Affairs Ministry under his fold. More than six ministers are currently holding more than one portfolio.
Road Transport and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari also holds the charge of Rural Development Ministry, while Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also has the charge of IT and Communications Ministry.
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has I&B ministry as an additional charge while Power Minister Piyush Goyal also looks after Coal and Mines.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu also has Urban Development while Nirmala Sitharaman, MoS in Finance Ministry, also has independent charge of Commerce.
Meanwhile, according to reports from Mumbai, Shiv Sena today said two of its MPs would be inducted into the Union Council of Ministers when Modi expands it on Sunday.
"We have got a call from the Prime Minister's office requesting us to recommend two names that we feel should be included in Modiji's cabinet. Though we have several names, Uddhavji will send his recommendation by tomorrow morning," a Sena MP told PTI, requesting anonymity.
Heavy Industries Minister Anant Geete is the lone Shiv Sena Minister in the Union Cabinet and the party has often complained about having been neglected by BJP at the Centre.
The offer of ministerial berths to Sena at the Centre, coming as it does after Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis made it clear that no Shiv Sena minister will be inducted into his ministry before it wins trust vote on November 12, is being seen as an attempt by BJP to humour the former ally into backing the government during the floor test.
While BJP had insisted on Sena first helping it sail through the trust vote, the latter wanted at least some of its ministers included in the Fadnavis government before November 12.
However, the Sena MP said though Uddhav would send the names of MPs to be included in the Union government tomorrow, it should not be "misconstrued" as indication of it being prepared to relent on its demands in Maharashtra.
"Please do not equate the demands made by our party to the central and the state governments. Our demands are different on different levels. We are firm on our demands as far as the state is concerned," he said.