At the meeting, the party leadership also discussed strategies for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and decided that the 543 seats of the lower house would be divided into three zones — north, east and south. Zone-wise strategy meetings are expected to take place early July.
The bid for a reboot assumes significance with some BJP state presidents approaching the end of their tenures. The need to bring in more “experienced faces” to make the party organisation more combative before the general election year was also discussed at the Wednesday meeting, it is learnt.
This comes at a time when the Lok Sabha polls are less than a year away and five crucial assembly elections — in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Mizoram — are due around November.
In the last Modi cabinet reshuffle in July 2021, the prime minister dropped 12 heavyweights including six cabinet ministers — Ravi Shanker Prasad (IT and law), Prakash Javadekar (I&B), Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ (education), Dr Harsh Vardhan (health), D.V. Sadananda Gowda (chemical and fertilisers) and Thaawar Chand Gehlot (social justice and empowerment). Now, with crucial elections ahead, the need for political messaging and caste balancing may be the reason behind the BJP considering bringing in experienced faces to give representation in the party organisation and government.
Soon after returning from his trip to the US, Modi set the tone for the next Lok Sabha campaign by making a case for the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) while interacting with his party’s booth-level workers in Bhopal earlier this week. Implementation of the UCC is a key unfulfilled promise from the BJP’s 2019 manifesto.
Before their Wednesday meeting with the PM, Nadda, Shah and Santhosh had discussed possible changes in another series of meetings in the first week of June. In one of these meetings, the three leaders met Arun Kumar, joint general secretary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the point person between the BJP and its ideological fountainhead. At the meeting, Kumar, it is learnt, raised the need to bring in fresh faces in organisation and government. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath too met the BJP high command in the first week of June on likely changes in the party’s state unit.
As far as changes in the government are concerned, BJP sources told ThePrint that party leaders from poll-bound states may be given roles. From Rajasthan — a state with a substantial tribal population — the high command may look to increase tribal representation in the cabinet, a key concern after the party registered considerable losses in reserved assembly seats there in 2018.
Inclusion of a leader from east Rajasthan is also a possibility to restore caste balance and fulfil “regional aspirations”, it is learnt. Moreover, ministers handling multiple portfolios may also be “unburdened”.
If a cabinet reshuffle does take place, a member of Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena may also be accommodated, sources further said.
A party leader told ThePrint that the high command usually holds not more than 3-4 meetings over routine changes, so the latest developments give a sense that a major overhaul is on the horizon and a “broader strategy” is being explored for the upcoming polls.
“It’s not necessary that a cabinet reshuffle happens. A few general secretaries can be added as the report cards of a few existing ones are not satisfactory. Changes in vice-presidents and frontal organisations can take place. From UP, Shrikant Sharma, and Sidharth Nath Singh, who was dropped from the Yogi cabinet, could be accommodated in the organisation and a few in-charges and presidents could be changed,” said another party leader.
Also read: BJP eyes social media stars for 2024 campaign. Leaders to ‘bond’ with singers, dancers, vloggers
Focus on poll-bound states of Hindi heartland
A BJP functionary told ThePrint on condition of anonymity: “After the defeat in Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh and the Delhi local body polls, there are several assembly elections scheduled in November. Three states (Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) are most crucial as they are in the Hindi heartland. They account for 65 Lok Sabha seats, of which 58 seats are currently with the BJP.”
The functionary went on to say that while Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh got new party presidents — C.P. Joshi who replaced Satish Poonia, and Arun Sao — MP’s state president B.D. Sharma has completed his tenure and the party has to take a decision on whether to retain him. While the party usually does not disturb the organisational setup in a state headed for elections, recent reports of a “lack of synergy” between Sharma and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has “alarmed” high command, the functionary added.
A few BJP leaders, it is learnt, have suggested the names of general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, Agriculture Minister Natendra Singh Tomar and Union Minister of State for Jal Shakti Prahlad Singh Patel as prospective candidates for the post of the MP unit chief.
Tomar became state president during Chouhan’s first term as CM. He was appointed in 2006 and remained on the post for two terms. Both leaders are known to have had good tuning in the past.
There is also a need to fill the post of the Karnataka BJP president, as Nalin Kumar Kateel has completed his three-year term. After the party’s loss in the state polls last month, a leader of Opposition needs to be chosen before the assembly session begins on 3 July.
“The most important task is Karnataka, where serious infighting is going on. The party suffered setbacks not only in Vokkaliga but also Lingayat areas. From former CM (Basavaraj) Bommai to (former ministers) Ashwath Narayan and R Ashoka to Sunil Kumar and (MLA) Basangouda Patil Yatnal and (former minister) Shobha Karandlaje have staked claim to the top post. Both Lingayats and Vokkalingas want the post of LoP. Party has to satisfy both communities.”
The party functionary quoted earlier said that the post of election in-charge of the most crucial state of Uttar Pradesh is also lying vacant.
While former minister Radha Mohan Singh is the party in-charge for UP, the BJP is considering a more “energetic” person for Mission 2024. Names including Gujarat party president C. R. Patil, Union ministers Anurag Thakur and Dharmendra Pradhan are doing the rounds.
Also read: Why Modi and Shah are softening towards regional parties ahead of 2024
‘Regional aspirations’, ministers with multiple portfolios
BJP functionaries said that after party president Nadda’s term was extended till January 2024, a new national executive committee was not announced, so there is a chance new names will be added.
On possible changes in cabinet, they said there are only five ministers from Rajasthan and no representation of tribals. “Gajendra Singh Shekhawat (Jal Shakti) and Ashwini Vaishnaw (Railways) are upper caste, Bhupendra Yadav (Labour and Environment) and Kailash Choudhary (MoS Agriculture) are from OBC, and Arjun Ram Meghwal (Law) is from SC,” said a functionary.
The functionary added: “There is a need to give representation from tribals and one from the upper caste community for caste balance and regional aspiration of east Rajasthan. From (MPs) Diya Kumari to Ranjeeta Koli, Rahul Kaswan and Ghanshyam Tiwari’s names are in news. From Madhya Pradesh, there are six ministers but no representation from the Malwa, Mahakaushal Vindhya regions in the cabinet.”
Another factor that may be taken into consideration in the ‘unburdening’ of ministers holding multiple portfolios. A BJP leader said: “There are a number of ministers who are holding charges of 2-3 ministries like Smriti Irani holding women and child development as well as minority affairs after Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi was dropped, Piyush Goyal, Pralhad Joshi, Sarbananda Sonowal, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Ashwini Vaishnaw, Hardeep Puri and Bhupendra Yadav. More berths can be given to allies for the NDA narrative.”
The changes may be announced before the monsoon session of parliament, which is likely to begin in the third week of July. However, like it has happened in the past, it “entirely depends on the prime minister”, the leader quoted above, said.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)
Also Read: Ashwini Vaishnaw’s resignation issue aside, Modi must revamp his team and reboot governance