New Delhi: The death of Ram Vilas Paswan this past October 8 has left the Narendra Modi cabinet with only one minister from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Paswan, the leader of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), an NDA constituent, was the Modi government’s food and consumer affairs minister.
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the minister for food processing industries, not only quit the cabinet on September 18 but her party pulled out of the NDA too in opposition to the BJP-led Central government’s decision to enact three controversial farm bills.
Though the LJP is still a part of NDA, it has decided to not contest the Bihar elections unitedly with the BJP and the Janata Dal (United) as an arm of the NDA. Another NDA constituent, Mizo National Front (MNF), had also taken a similar decision in the run-up to the last state polls.
Paswan’s death and Kaur’s departure from the cabinet has left Ram Das Athawale of the Republican Party of India (RPI) as the only representative of the NDA in the Modi government.
In 2019, NDA constituent Shiv Sena had withdrawn its central minister Arvind Savant following a bitter fight with the BJP in poll-bound Maharasthra, finally leading it to go with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
Though there has been speculation about expansion of the Modi cabinet for some time now, the government is tight-lipped about it so far. A BJP source, on July 31, had told The Wire that the expansion might take place soon after the Bhoomi Pujan of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya. “The expansion has been due for some time but had been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic,” he had said.
There has been speculation in media reports about the entry of Jyotiraditya Scindia into the Modi cabinet. On contacted, a close aide of Scindia had refused to talk more about it, adding, “Not now, but he (Scindia) will respond (to it) later for sure.”
The name of Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has also been doing the rounds. However, Sarma had told The Wire that he would remain in the state till the assembly election, due in April 20121, are over.
Latest media reports have said that the government is unlikely to see an expansion before the Bihar polls. “With the BJP leadership preoccupied with Bihar polls, it may have to wait until mid-November,” an October 10 report in Times of India said.
The present Modi government has 54 ministers, 16 fewer than the earlier dispensation. The number can go up to 81.