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Bigger Modi team after state polls

New Delhi, July 30: The expansion of Narendra Modi’s council of ministers will depend on how the BJP’s alliances in election-bound Maharashtra and Haryana pan out, party sources said.

“A cabinet expansion seems likely only after the next round of Assembly polls,” a party source said.

This means BJP hopefuls might have to cool their heels for some more time, though the expectation is that the Prime Minister would eventually enlarge his team as its current size of 46 is a little more than half the limit of 82 —15 per cent of the Lok Sabha’s 543 members.

The 46 include 24 of cabinet rank, 10 ministers of state with independent charge and 12 junior ministers.

Size apart, Modi may look to correct regional imbalances in his team that has only one member each from Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh where the BJP had won all Lok Sabha seats. Rajasthan, too, is represented by a lone junior minister despite the party’s clean sweep of all 25 seats.

When the BJP lost the three Assembly seats in last week’s Uttarakhand byelections, one reason cited was the absence of a nominee in the Union council of ministers.

Sources said Modi could put off the expansion until after the Maharashtra and Haryana elections because of the “turbulent” state of the BJP’s alliances.

In Maharashtra, where the BJP has ratcheted up its demand for a greater seat share against ally Shiv Sena, the fear is the Sena might demand a “disproportionate” number of berths . The Sena now has a lone minister, Anant Geete, who was miffed when he was handed out the heavy industries portfolio. The Sena had a wish list of five — three cabinet and two junior — ministers.

For the Assembly polls, the BJP has conveyed that the old seat-sharing formula — 117 for the BJP and 171 for the Sena — will no longer be acceptable. “We have repeatedly demonstrated in recent elections that our strike rate is higher than the Sena’s. The Sena has to reconcile itself to this reality,” a Maharashtra BJP MP said.

In Haryana, the BJP is in a tenuous position as it never had much of a base in a state where the major castes divided their loyalties between the Congress and the regional parties. The Jats either went with the Congress or the Indian National Lok Dal, while the Bishnois were loyal to the family of Bhajan Lal. Bhajan’s progeny, Kuldeep Bishnoi, heads the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), which has a partnership with the BJP that didn’t work effectively in the Lok Sabha polls.

A section of the BJP had second thoughts about persisting with Bishnoi after the party won seven of Haryana’s 10 Lok Sabha seats.

When the partnership was first stitched three years ago with the initiative of Sushma Swaraj — who hails from the state — the mutual understanding was that in a state election, the parties would each fight 45 of the 90 seats. The chief minister’s post would go to Bishnoi.

However, when the HJC failed to open its account in this summer’s general elections, the BJP signalled to Bishnoi that it wished to contest the bulk of the Assembly seats and claim the chief minister’s post if the alliance won.