Column | Will Modi shed extra load on ministers with a rejig soon?


It is not just the voters and politicians in Maharashtra and Haryana who are eagerly awaiting the assembly election results to be declared on Thursday. Dozens of BJP members of Parliament are hoping that the election results would give some breathing time for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to expand his cabinet. But there will also be some current ministers, who are holding more than one ministry, who may have to take up further responsibilities.

After the spectacular electoral victory in May when the BJP itself won more than 300 seats, Modi who returned to power inducted 57 ministers, of whom 24 were of cabinet rank, nine Ministers of State with independent charge and 24 more Ministers of State. The Constitution allows for a maximum of 83 ministers which happen to be 15 per cent of the total strength of the Lok Sabha. Modi had kept 25 ministerial positions open, and aspirants, including those who were ministers in the first term of the prime minister, hoped that he would soon expand his cabinet, filling most of the vacancies. But the rush of events, including the developments in Jammu and Kashmir, and the multiple foreign and domestic trips of the prime minister himself, dashed these hopes. As Modi rides high in the government and the party, no one would openly suggest what he should do, especially as the economy too slowed down.

Then came the party's preparations for the electoral fights to retain power in Maharashtra and Haryana. But now there are murmurs about the need to get more pan-India representation in the ministry and also that some of the ministers are overburdened, which affects the central government's overall delivery schedules.

The ministers who have major additional responsibilities include Ravi Shankar Prasad, who looks after Electronics & Information Technology, Law & Justice and Communication ministries. In the earlier government he had the responsibilities of only the first two, but Communication which used to be earlier combined with Electronics & Information Technology is now back with Prasad.

Similarly, Railways minister Piyush Goyal has an equally heavy responsibility in Commerce & Industries. Petroleum & Natural Gas minister Dharmendra Pradhan, has the load of Ministry of Steel also.

Parliamentary Affairs minister Prahlad Joshi has two extra responsibilities in Coal and Mines. As the parliamentary affairs is a seasonal job, which becomes very active during the three sessions of Parliament, the minister in-charge is often given another portfolio. But Joshi was luckier than his predecessors as he got major economic ministries under him. Harsh Vardhan, the health minister, has got charge of Science & Technology ministry too. He had handled them separately during Modi's first term. Environment and Forests Minister Prakash Javadekar too has got the additional job of Information & Broadcasting. Again he had handled both these ministries in the earlier government, before moving to the Human Resource Development ministry.

Another heavyweight minister Nitin Gadkari who continues to run Road transport & Highways also looks after the Micro, Small & Medium Industries ministry, which earlier had its own cabinet minister.

Others with twin responsibilities are Smriti Irani (Textiles as well as Women & Child Development ministries); Narendra Singh Tomar (Agriculture, along with Rural Development & Panchayati Raj); and Hardeep Puri (Urban Development and Civil Aviation). Though Kiren Rijiju (Sports & Youth Affairs, along with Minority Affairs) and Prahlad Singh (Tourism and Culture) have two responsibilities, these additional responsibilities are not seen as heavy ones.

But not all double or treble charges are expected to be divested when the prime minister adds more ministers. He has entrusted such multiple responsibilities to those whom he considers as efficient. Yet as the ministers have handled their responsibilities since May, there is a time to assess their performance. While very senior ministers like Rajnath Singh (Defence), Amit Shah (Home), Nirmala Sitharaman (Finance), Ravi Shankar Prasad, Nitin Gadkari and S Jaishankar (External Affairs) would not expect any change, others would be more subject to changes to accommodate the increase in the ministerial strength.

However as is his nature, the prime minister has not given any indication on whether he would induct more ministers or reshuffle the portfolios. He might even continue with the present team as the winter session of Parliament is due to begin in November. Even party president and Home Minister Amit Shah has not given any hint to the aspirants who look out for signals.

It is also unlikely that any of the electoral allies of BJP like the Janata Dal (United) and AIADMK which did not join the government in May would be considered. The Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar had not been satisfied with the offer of a single cabinet minister. He was keen on two ministerships and also plum portfolios like the Railways and Agriculture, but Modi refused to yield to these demands. The AIADMK missed the bus as only one of its candidates won in the Lok Sabha elections. Meanwhile, ministerial aspirants in the BJP are watching out for signals from the prime minister.

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