Why Suresh Prabhu’s offer to resign and PM Modi’s reply to him indicate an imminent Cabinet reshuffle

Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu earlier today offered to quit over recent rail accidents in Uttar Pradesh but his confession tweet later stated that PM Modi asked him to wait.

Railway minister Suresh Prabhu‘s “veiled offer to resign” and his confession tweet that Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked him to wait are two fresh indications of a Cabinet reshuffle. There is no confirmation (official or unofficial) on when will Modi create his new look of council of ministers – but with just 18 months left for the PM to seek a re-election this perhaps is the most logical time.

Top BJP leaders and ministers in the government say that if the PM goes to China to attend the BRICS summit then the window of opportunity starts from August 25 to September 2. Modi leaves for China for the summit on September 3. However, a senior PMO official warned that the reshuffle may not happen this week and the PM may decide to go to China only after some very credible assurance from China. If he doesn’t go to China then the window gets extended from August 25 to the September 5. Top sources from BJP rule out chances of a rejig after September 5 (for 15 days) as the inauspicious period begins, as per the Hindu calender.

According to top sources, the Modi-Amit Shah duo may use the opportunity to carry out a larger exercise in a phased manner to change the contours of the council of ministers, appoint state governors and make changes in the BJP structure to prepare for the upcoming Assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha polls. There are indications that the council may be subjected to at least a dozen changes.

Earlier Modi was expected to reshuffle the Cabinet on August 18 but the developments in the JDU and AIADMK led to the delay. There have been clear vacancies in the government for some time – Arun Jaitley has been holding the additional charge of defence ministry after Manohar Parrikar took over as the Goa chief minister besides finance and corporate affairs ministries. Narendra Singh Tomar has was given the additional charge of urban affairs when M Venkaiah Naidu resigned to become the vice-presidential candidate. He also heads the rural development, panchayati raj, drinking water and sanitation ministries. Dr Harshvardhan has the additional charge of forest and environment since the death of Anil Dave. He heads the ministry of Science, Technology and Earth Sciences. Smriti Irani was given the charge of information and broadcasting ministry after Naidu’s resignation apart from the textile ministry.

Sources told India Today that two senior ministers in the current Cabinet are tipped to get the railways portfolio. A senior BJP leader said, “The railways portfolio is a must watch. BJP’s new ally and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar is reaching Delhi on Thursday evening. He announced at JD(U)’s convention on August 19 to formally join the Modi-led NDA. Two of his leaders may join the council. Will Nitish Kumar pitch for the railways portfolio once held by him is something one cannot ignore.” Interestingly, sources said that PM Modi may not induct men from the AIADMK in the impending reshuffle Apart from those who may lose additional charge, few ministers are likely to lose their portfolios altogether. According to sources, two ministers handling PM Modi’s twin pet projects may lose their portfolios because of their failure to deliver.

Sources said the exercise will be crucial as it will be the last one before PM Modi leads his pack in the 2019 polls. Modi would like to weed out the dead wood – sack or shift non-performers – lighten the load of those overburdened and in the process induct new blood. Some in the BJP feel that the PM, by not finding replacements for Parrikar, Dave and others has allowed the situation to fester and even reduced the time for newcomers to learn and deliver.

While Cabinet changes are largely PM’s prerogative and more so in the Modi government BJP insiders said that the coming exercise will have a stamp of party president Amit Shah. Shah is almost through with his 90 days ‘yatra’ across the length and breadth of the country and he now has a detailed dossier on which schemes are working on the ground and which ministry or minister has managed to leave a mark. The dossier also has details on chief ministers. Will he ask the PM to induct chief ministers in his council is, however, not known.

The council rejig is likely to be followed by a change in the BJP structure. According to sources, some ministers may get drafted to take responsbilities in states heading towards polls. This includes Himachal Pradesh. There is a strong buzz that health minister JP Nadda may be sent to the state to head the BJP’s campaign and could be the CM face. While some sources are predicting a promotion for petroleum junior minister Dharmendra Pradhan, a section in Odisha BJP believe Pradhan could be heading to the state.

With Amit Shah fixing a target of 350 seats for the next Lok Sabha polls, sources say that he may go for a reboot of the system. It means men with experience may leave the government for party work and some party men may join the government. In another related exercise, the Modi-Shah duo may decide the governors for several states including Bihar (additional charge for West Bengal governor) and Tamil Nadu (additional charge for Maharashtra Governor Vidyasagar Rao).

Senior ministers said that PM Modi and Amit Shah will send out a signal with the Cabinet and party reshuffle that those who are part of the new teams will have to follow just one mantra – perform or perish.