|Modi in New Delhi on Sunday. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi, May 18: Narendra Modi has set cabinet-formation talks in motion amid a general indication that veterans should not get too high on hope and that a few heavyweights may be held back for party work.
Modi dropped a clear hint for ministerial hopefuls this morning when a group of newly elected MPs from Karnataka called on him at Gujarat Bhavan.
The visitors included South Bangalore MP Ananth Kumar, who was the urban development minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, and former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa.
A source said that Modi reminded them the BJP organisation was at least as “important” as the government, if not more, implying that every heavyweight should not expect a cabinet berth.
He apparently added that the “Modi hawa” (Modi wave) could peter out in three months or so, therefore it was important to keep the party on its toes constantly.
One indication that party sources have received so far is that Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar could be moved to Delhi and given charge of a “critical” ministry. Such a move would be of a piece with Modi’s maxim that running a state is as “difficult and complex” as overseeing the Centre.
Parrikar, serving a second term in Goa, is credited with coalescing the Christian and Muslims votes for the BJP in the 2012 Assembly elections by “repairing” the party’s image among the minorities.
He had promptly cracked down on the Karnataka-based vigilante outfit, Sri Rama Sene, when its chief Pramod Muthalik tried to set up base in Goa.
BJP sources, however, said a “good” replacement would have to be found if Parrikar was to relocate. Besides, in dissidence-prone Goa, Parrikar had managed to stave off intra-party conflicts.
It now seems more and more unlikely that veterans L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi would find a place in the government, even outside of the cabinet.
Modi’s constant refrain after winning has been that this election marks the emergence of a post-1947 leadership and reflects the people’s aspirations for a break with past systems and structures.
The fate of Sushma Swaraj too hangs in the balance. If the Gujarat experience is an indicator, sources reasoned, Modi would want a sizeable share of women in his team.
He would also be “extra careful” in allocating portfolios to pre-empt the threat of vested interests eventually controlling things. In Gujarat, which has been electing a fair number of professionals to the legislature, Modi has never allotted the health ministry to a doctor or the law ministry to a lawyer.
So, at the Centre too, he is unlikely to farm out health to, say, Anbumani Ramadoss of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (who was the UPA-I health minister) or law to Ravi Shankar Prasad.
If BJP president Rajnath Singh joins the government, the party will have to appoint a successor at once.
It is learnt that former party chief Nitin Gadkari may return to the post. Sources said Modi would ensure that Amit Shah stayed on as a general secretary with over-arching responsibilities.
Modi also made his first substantive gesture towards a non-NDA party today. He called Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa to promise “absolute cooperation” between the Centre and her government.