NEW DELHI -- The stage is set for a reshuffle and expansion of the Union Council of Ministers headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday with two ministers having resigned and nine others understood to have been asked to quit to pave the way for entry of new faces.
Ministers of State Rajiv Pratap Rudy (Skill Development) and Sanjeev Balyan (Agriculture) have resigned, while a few others have been asked to resign from their posts, ahead of the reshuffle on Sunday morning.
"A process has been set in motion for the swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan around 10 a.m. on Sunday," officials said.
Union Ministers Uma Bharti, Radha Mohan Singh and Kalraj Mishra (all Cabinet), Giriraj Singh, Nirmala Sitharaman, Bandaru Dattatreya and Faggan Singh Kulaste (all MoS) are believed to have been nudged by BJP President Amit Shah to put in their papers, informed sources said. Birender Singh, Steel Minister, is also likely to face the axe.
Minister of State for HRD Mahendra Nath Pandey, who was on Friday appointed as the Uttar Pradesh BJP chief, is also on the way out of the Ministry.
Rudy said it was the decision of the party and he had resigned. Balyan said he was asked to resign and he would always follow the party directives. However, Uma Bharti was evasive when asked if she had resigned. "I have not heard your questions. I have no right to speak on the issue. Only those who have been authorised by the party chief can speak," she told reporters.
Sources in the BJP said the decision to seek resignations from ministers was based purely on performance.
"The Prime Minister and the party President has assessed the work of the ministers, and then have taken a call on some of them," a senior BJP leader close to the leadership told IANS on condition of anonymity.
He said ministers, including Dharmendra Pradhan, Piyush Goyal and Manoj Sinha, are likely to be promoted. Transport and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari's name is doing the rounds for the Railway Minister's post. There is speculation that an integrated Ministry of Transport, including all the portfolios held by Gadkari, could be created. Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had offered to quit last week in the wake of two major back-to-back train derailments that claimed more than 30 lives. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kept it on hold.
Kalraj Mishra, Minister of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, may be made a Governor as he has crossed the unofficial bar of 75 years for one to hold a ministerial post at the Centre.
Amit Shah, who is in Vrindavan to attend the three-day RSS coordination meet, is likely to discuss the proposed changes with RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat there.
The new faces likely to join the union government include Bhupendra Yadav, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, both Rajya Sabha members, Satyapal Singh, Prahlad Patel, Mahesh Girri and Harish Dwivedi (all members of Lok Sabha).
The reshuffle is mostly likely to see the entry of Janata Dal-United (JD-U) nominees into the ministry, with the party striking an alliance with the BJP in Bihar recently. From the JD-U quota Rajya Sabha MP R.C.P. Singh and Santosh Kumar are strong contenders.
Ally Shiv Sena may get one more berth with Anil Desai, a Rajya Sabha member, making the grade. However, the other new ally AIADMK, about which much has been speculated, is unlikely to get berths for now in view of the fact that the party is undergoing a period of crisis.
Some election-bound states, including Congress-ruled Karnataka, could get greater representation in the Council of Ministers. Prahlad Joshi and Suresh Angadi, both MPs from Karnataka, could make a debut at the Centre. Likewise, Anurag Thakur, Lok Sabha member from Hamirpur in Himachal Pradesh, could get the nod. Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections are due later this year, while Karnataka Assembly polls are slated for next year.
There is speculation that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley may shed the additional charge of Defence he is holding now.
A cabinet reshuffle has been on the cards since Manohar Parrikar resigned as Defence Minister to become Chief Minister of Goa in March this year. Arun Jaitley has been holding additional charge of the Defence Ministry since then.
Talk of a reshuffle gained ground after Jaitley on Thursday hinted that he would not continue to hold the Defence portfolio for long. "At least not for very long," Jaitley said on Thursday in response to questions on how long he would continue as Defence Minister.
Besides Jaitley, three other union ministers are also holding additional charges of different ministries.
Textiles Minister Smriti Irani is holding additional charge of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, while Narendra Tomar has the Urban Development Ministry along with Rural Development after M. Venkaiah Naidu's exit to become Vice President of India.
Union Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan is holding additional charge of the Environment Ministry following the death of Anil Madhav Dave in May.
The last Cabinet reshuffle took place in July last year, in which Modi inducted 19 new faces and elevated Minister of State for Environment Prakash Javadekar to Cabinet rank. Five junior ministers were also dropped.
The size of the ministry at the moment is 73, including the Prime Minister. Of them 24 are of the Cabinet rank, 12 Ministers of State with independent charge while 36 are Ministers of State.