New Delhi: At least five central ministers quit on Thursday as part of a larger restructuring, which is expected to take place by Sunday and is likely to see the creation of an integrated transport ministry under road and shipping minister Nitin Gadkari, who could be given charge of railways.
Skill development minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy, minister of state for health Faggan Singh Kulaste and minister of state for agriculture and food processing Sanjiv Balyan have been asked to put in their papers. Water resources minister Uma Bharati has offered to quit on health grounds, while Mahendra Nath Pandey, who is minister of state in the human resource development ministry, is set to leave after his appointment as the chief of BJP’s Uttar Pradesh unit and in view of the one manone post principle.
Sources said Kalraj Mishra, medium and small scale industries minister, who is above 75 years but was allowed to continue because of Uttar Pradesh polls, may be headed to a Raj Bhavan. Two nominees of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar — Ram Chandra Prasad Singh and, perhaps, Purnea MP Santosh Kushwaha — are likely to be sworn in along with BJP nominees.
Railway minister Suresh Prabhu, who has been under adverse spotlight after a spate of derailments, is likely to take over as environment minister — a responsibility that he performed with aplomb under the Vajpayee government. Gadkari, who is already in-charge of road transport and shipping, will gain further heft. Rudy is all set to get an important post in the party, sources said.
Parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar is speculated to be the choice for urban development, which has been handled by rural development minister Narendra Singh Tomar as his additional charge since N Venkaiah Naidu’s elevation as vice-president. Modi had a meeting with BJP chief Amit Shah on Thursday evening, as party sources put it, to give final touches to what will be the third recast since May 2014 when the party swept to office.
Although uncertainty persisted over the timing of the exercise because of the PM’s travel schedule and President Ram Nath Kovind’s engagements outside the Capital, speculation that Modi might carry out the changes before taking off for China on Sunday intensified after finance minister Arun Jaitley said he was likely to shed additional charge of defence shortly.
“At least, I hope not very long,” was Jaitley’s reply when reporters asked him on Thursday about the cabinet reshuffle after he, along with other ministers, met Shah at the latter’s residence. Defence, along with environment, urban development and I&B are among portfolios which have been without full time ministers for some time.
With less than two years left for the next Lok Sabha polls and a greater focus on delivery, the PM is understood to be keen on a recast of his team in what may turn out to be the last such exercise before the 2019 test. Besides filling crucial vacancies, the exercise could also aim to reward performers and penalise laggards.
Kovind, who was set to leave the Capital for Tirupati, will return on Saturday evening. He will head out again on Sunday on a two-day trip to Gujarat, leaving a very small window for him to squeeze in a ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan to swear in the inductees.
But doing so will be necessary because of the PM’s engagements abroad and the looming ‘shradh’ — a 12-day-long inauspicious spell beginning on September 6 when important tasks, from appointments to purchases and marriage negotiations — are put on hold. After attending the Brics summit in Xiamen in China, Modi will travel to Myanmar before returning on September 5.