As Venkaiah goes for VP polls, BJP shifts focus on cabinet expansion, party revamp

As Venkaiah goes for VP polls, BJP shifts focus on cabinet expansion, party revamp

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New Delhi, Jul 18

Close on the heels of BJP leadership’s decision to field Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu for the Vice-President’s post, in the party circle all eyes seemed to have shifted towards a major reshuffle likely to be brought in both in the Union cabinet and the saffron party’s organisation level.

A section of RSS leaders is said to be in favour of a senior BJP general secretary join the ministry as in-charge of Defence, but in principle the Sangh fountainhead is learnt to have given a free hand to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on cabinet expansion or reshuffle. Mr Naidu has been a key Minister in the Modi cabinet and was holding the responsibilities of key portfolios like Information and Broadcasting and Urban Development. There is a vacant slot vis-a-vis Defence portfolio also after Manohor Parrikar had to be shifted back to the state of Goa as Chief Minister earlier this year.

The Prime Minister’s team also suffered a setback in May when Anil Mahadev Dave, Environment Minister, breathed his last. In fact, only about a month back, party leaders suggested that sparing Thawar Chand Gehlot for President’s post was not possible as Prime Minister needed to keep him in the cabinet. The BJP chief Amit Shah and top RSS leaders are said to have held a few round of meetings last week and reportedly discussed among other things the organisational matters and the possible cabinet expansion.

Sources said Mr Shah also held one-on-one meeting with the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was given the additional portfolio of Defence after Manohor Parrikar was shifted back to Goa to take over the reins as the Chief Minister. A section of party leaders indicate that Mr Modi and Mr Shah can again opt for bringing in ‘one of the Chief Ministers’ as Defence Minister — but not many are enthusiastic about the idea. The party leaders also realise that the assembly elections are crucial for Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. BJP is in power in these states for last 14-15 years and anti-incumbency mood cannot be brushed aside.

Apparently, the party is also aware of emerging anti-incumbency mood against Vasundhara Raje ministry in Rajasthan. The BJP central leadership is exploring the necessities about an organisational reshuffle too as the party wants to get going for crucial assembly elections in 2018 in states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and also in Mizoram. Three other northeastern states – Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura also go to the polls by March 2018.

The new team of party’s office-bearers and spokespersons would see through the 2019 general elections – wherein PM Modi-Amit Shah would be more than keen to repeat the magic of 2014. As part of preliminary exercise, the party has already asked a number of Rajya Sabha MPs and union Ministers to focus on possible parliamentary constituencies where they can contest during Lok Sabha polls. “Having put up exemplary success in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh in 2014, the BJP poll strategists are aware that even if good performance can be repeated in these states and there can be no increase in seats. These shortfalls have to be made up from new states. Hence, BJP is trying to make deeper penetration in states like Odisha, West Bengal and Telangana,” a source said. The senior leaders could also work on possible increase of a few more regional and smaller parties into the NDA fold. But things are at preliminary stages, sources said.

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