Pranab Mukherjee with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and LK Advani at the customary dinner hosted by the President on Wednesday for the new government. (PTI)
New Delhi, May 28: Party MPs who didn’t pass Narendra Modi’s scrutiny the first time can still nurse hopes.
When Parliament meets in July for nearly three weeks to pass the annual budget, the Prime Minister is expected to scrutinise their performance on the floor of the House. That could be a criterion for possible induction in his council of ministers.
BJP and government sources said Modi was “unlikely” to expand his council before the budget session because he and his close associate, finance minister Arun Jaitley, would be busy preparing what would be the new government’s first major policy declaration.
Sources, however, said an “exception” could be made for the defence ministry, which Jaitley now holds as a temporary charge.
Murli Manohar Joshi’s call-on at the Prime Minister’s South Block office has sparked speculation that the veteran — excluded from the cabinet — could be considered for the defence minister’s post.
Asked, a Joshi aide said: “Doctor sahab is not available for the media today.”
Yesterday, Jaitley had said a full-time defence minister would be appointed “in a couple of weeks”. Party sources had mentioned Arun Shourie as a probable, but one of them said there was “still opposition” to the former minister in the “top-most” echelon.
“Modi doesn’t have a problem but a close associate of his does because Shourie had frankly and freely run down this associate in the past. If he gets the defence ministry, he is automatically pushed into the big league of the four who represent the elite panels such as the cabinet committee on security affairs. Given Modi’s trust in this associate, I can’t say if he will overrule his objections and bring in Shourie.”
The sources said Joshi, as a former human resource development minister, might have wanted to proffer “sagely” advice on the controversy emanating from Smriti Irani’s lack of “appropriate” academic requirements to run the ministry, seen as Modi’s first “serious” misstep.
The Smriti episode — the first big public fallout of Modi’s first shot at ministry-making outside Gujarat —wasn’t the only flap that could potentially blow up into a big embarrassment for the new government.
It also had to cope with the fusillades fired by parties in Jammu and Kashmir and the Congress for a statement from the minister of state in the PMO, Jitendra Singh.
Singh, an MP from Udhampur, had said the process of abrogating Article 370, that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir, had “begun” and discussions were on with “several” stakeholders in the state.
Although Singh claimed he had been “misquoted”, the damage, BJP sources said, was done.
To contain a graver fallout in the midst of Modi’s “reach-out” optics to Pakistan, a minister said all his colleagues as well as the BJP’s spokespersons were to be told tonight itself not to speak out of turn on policies and issues. And, if they had to, they should stick to the stand adopted by Modi in his speeches and to the BJP’s 2014 manifesto.
At an April rally in Jammu, Modi had said: “Irrespective of whether it (the article) remains a part of the Indian Constitution or not, the time has come for at least a debate to find whether Article 370 has benefited the common man in Jammu and Kashmir. This is the need of the hour.”
The manifesto restated the BJP’s position on repealing the article, which allows Jammu and Kashmir a separate flag, constitution and penal code, but added that the process would not move without discussions with the stakeholders.
To repeal the article, a red rag to the RSS and the BJP, the Constitution will have to be amended by a two-thirds majority in Parliament as well as in the Jammu and Kashmir legislature — scenarios unlikely to materialise in the foreseeable future.
Against the backdrop of the first big potential confrontation with a state, Modi, who held a meeting with PMO officials, including his new principal secretary Nripendra Mishra, emphasised the importance of his office.
An official release said the Prime Minister believed “India’s progress lies in the progress of the states and this would strengthen our federal structure”.