The first major cabinet reshuffle since NDA came to power for the second time in 2019 saw several surprising omissions as well as new entrants. While few political pundits would term it as the randomness of the events in the selection of ministers, a close look reveals that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had his reasons for every single move.
Can they bring votes?
Firstly, the PM looked at the past record of the leaders and observed if they had stood their ground and contributed to strengthening the vote base of the party. Shiv Sena’s perennial bete noire, Narayan Rane, a heavyweight leader from the Konkan, and his inclusion in the cabinet is being seen from a similar lens.
Narayan Rane joined BJP in 2019 and merged his own outfit Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha with the party. Starting his political career with Shiv Sena, Rane served as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra for a few months in 1999. He then moved on to the Congress party and served as a minister in the state government.
The induction of the Konkan strongman, who is also an important face of the Maratha community, is clearly an aggressive move on the BJP’s part to neutralise the Sena in the Konkan.
Similarly, former Congress leader, Jyotiraditya Scindia’s introduction by PM Modi in his Council of Ministers and the subsequent allocation of all-important civil aviation portfolio has been done so because Scindia delivered Madhya Pradesh to the BJP. In what can be termed as sheer coincidence, Jyotiraditya’s father, Madhavrao Scindia held the civil aviation portfolio in the PV Narasimha Rao government from 1991 to 1993 as well.
Currently, a Rajya Sabha MP, Scindia’s elevation to the top cabinet post must be spearing like a dagger in the hearts of Congress young striplings like Sachin Pilot and Milind Deora, who reportedly had almost thought about defecting from Congress last year over their differences.
Upcoming electoral battles
The new entries in the cabinet have also been done with an eye on future electoral battles in mind. Wasting no time for 2024 elections and keeping in view of the setback received in the just-concluded assembly polls, four new ministers from West Bengal were included in the cabinet by PM Modi while two erstwhile ministers in the cabinet, Babul Supriyo and Debasree Chaudhuri were shown the doors.
John Barla, Nisith Pramanik, Shantanu Thakur, and Dr. Subhas Sarkar have been given a slot in the upper echelons of Indian politics as BJP aims to improve its 2019 Lok Sabha tally (18 of 42 seats) from the state in 2024.
Similarly, with the BMC elections fast approaching and fissures starting to widen in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, BJP has given four Maharashtra leaders, a berth in the cabinet. In addition to Narayan Rane, Dr. Bhagwat Karad, Bharati Pawar, and Kapil Patil have been chosen.
Dr. Bhagwat Karad is an influential and experienced OBC leader from the Marathwada region, and his inclusion is meant to serve as a stimulus for the party’s further expansion in the area while representing vital OBC interests.
The induction of Kapil Patil, a former NCP leader who joined the BJP ahead of the 2014 general election, is being viewed as a move to counter Sena stalwart and Maharashtra Minister Eknath Shinde, who currently holds sway over Thane. The district will face local bodies elections next year and Patil could be the key leader for BJP.
Bharati Pawar, a first-time MP from Dindori, a tribal constituency in Nasik District, is being seen as a step to neutralise the NCP in northern Maharashtra.
The Uttar Pradesh assembly elections are scheduled to be held next year. Keeping the politics of the state in mind, Apna Dal leader and MP from Mirzapur Anupriya Patel, Kaushal Kishore, MP from Mohanlalganj seat of Lucknow, Satya Pal Singh Baghel, MP from Agra, Bhanu Pratap Singh Verma, MP from Jalaun, Rajya Sabha MP BL Verma, former Civil Aviation minister Hardeep S Puri, and Pankaj Chaudhary, MP from Maharajganj are the few names from Uttar Pradesh to be inducted in the Council of Ministers.
For Karnataka, where BJP is on a slightly dibbly-dobbly ground after BS Yediyurappa started facing dissent within the party, the selection of cabinet ministers is expected to bring some much-needed respite.
A Narayanaswamy (Chitradurga), Shobha Karndlaje (Chikamagaluru-Udupi), Bhagavath Rao Khuba (Bidar), and Rajeev Chandrasekhar (Rajya Sabha member) are new ministers from the state. It is imperative to note that Shobha Karandlaje and Bhagavata Rao Khuba belong to Gowda and Lingayat communities, respectively, and could prove to be the game-changers in coalescing the votes of the two communities.
Sarbananda Sonowal’s induction into the Union council of ministers was a formality after he passed on the CM chair to Himanta Biswa Sarma. Sonowal was a trusted lieutenant of PM Modi in the state and held his fort with utmost perfection, even amidst a raging CAA-NRC debate.
As explained earlier, Narayan Rane, who has been a former Maharashtra CM, is known for his staunch anti-Uddhav Thackeray and anti-Shiv Sena stand. He got nine out of ten MLAs, who had quit the Sena including himself, re-elected in the by-polls and thus his prowess could not be underestimated. The fate of BMC elections will rest upon his shoulders too.
Thus, it can be determined with utmost certainty that PM Modi has played a brilliant masterstroke with his new cabinet and the rewards will be reaped in the coming year or two.