Jaitley might get foreign affairs, Swaraj defence

Last Updated: Wed, May 14, 2014 04:51 hrs

New Delhi: Lutyens’ Delhi is agog about the possible shape of a Narendra Modi Cabinet.

Amit Shah, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s chief strategist in Uttar Pradesh, is unlikely to find a place. Senior leader Arun Jaitley might possibly be India’s next foreign minister, with the finance ministry going to a technocrat. Sushma Swaraj could be Jaitley’s neighbour in South Block as India’s next defence minister.

Sources within the party dismiss speculation that Shah will be the next home minister or man the Prime Minister’s Office. They say the party does not want to let go of him after, what most consider, a stellar performance in reviving the BJP’s fortunes in Uttar Pradesh.

Shah indicated as much on Tuesday, telling reporters his next goal was to prepare the BJP for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections of 2017. The party wants him to devote his time to prepare for a series of difficult Assembly elections by the end of this year, in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand, and in Bihar in early 2015.

Sushma Swaraj, a Cabinet minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, would need to be accommodated in the Cabinet Committee on Security. Swaraj is unlikely to settle for being the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and could get defence.

Jaitley is also seen as front runner for the next finance minister. But it is possible he might instead be the next external affairs minister. Yashwant Sinha, who opted out of the Lok Sabha elections, might have to settle for being deputy chairperson of the Planning Commission.

According to sources, the jury is still out on whether party president, Rajnath Singh, who has betrayed little anxiety over his possible margin of victory in Lucknow, will continue in the party or get a key portfolio in the government. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has Nitin Gadkari’s request to return to an important position in the party structure. He might get the urban development portfolio.

Singh, however, has sounded out leaders like Uma Bharati and Shahnawaz Hussain for important portfolios in the next government. A party leader said former Army Chief V K Singh might find an entry into the council of ministers but was unlikely to be in the defence ministry.

Sources said Subramanian Swamy and M J Akbar were likely to get Rajya Sabha seats, while Modi might get his media advisor from Gujarat. Arun Shourie, minister for disinvestment in the Vajpayee government, has also been called from Pune to remain in Delhi. A senior leader phoned Shourie to tell him that “the party needed him in Delhi”.

Others who could be accommodated include allies like Ram Vilas Paswan, P A Sangma, the Shiv Sena, the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Telugu Desam Party. A Modi cabinet will also have to accommodate former ministers like B C Khanduri, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Sumitra Mahajan, Maneka Gandhi, etc.

A Modi government is also likely to re-jig the current structure of the union cabinet. Mergers and demergers of at least top eight union ministries are on the cards. Modi, sources say, does not believe in the concept of an Empowered Group of Ministers or a Group of Ministers.

Bureaucrats are likely to have greater authority to work on policy consistent with the BJP manifesto. Modi is also in favour of reorganizing several ministries, including finance, commerce, home, tourism and railways.  

So, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade could be withdrawn from the ministry of Commerce and merged with the External Affairs Ministry. Ministry of Corporate Affairs could be absorbed with the Finance Ministry.

A new department in the home ministry may put in place to coordinate between the Prime Minister’s Office and all the Chief Ministers. A chief secretary level officer would coordinate and brief the PM daily. Ministry of water resources is likely to get a new name. A new department will be carved out from ministries of agriculture and rural development.

A Modi government would try involving CMs of border states like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab in the CCS discussions and CMs will also have weekly interaction with national security agencies. The next government would also attempt review and revamp UPA’s flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

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