Just months before the legislative polls in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Uttarakhand in early 2022, and Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat a little later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to reshuffle his Council of Ministers.
While no official confirmation has been made, the Cabinet rejig is expected to take place on 7 July.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sources said at least 18 new faces are expected to be included.
The Indian Parliament's monsoon session is scheduled to begin on 19 July.
The reshuffle has been the subject of much speculation, especially since the prime minister launched an assessment of the performance of key ministries last month.
As part of that, Prime Minister Modi held a series of meetings with senior ministers and the party leadership in June.
According to political analyst Vinod Sharma, the Narendra Modi government has been on the receiving end of constant criticism for its alleged failure in handling the COVID situation, economic crisis, rising unemployment, skyrocketing fuel prices, farmers' protests, and lack of vaccines.
He says elections are due for many state assemblies, and there are vacancies in the Council of Ministers because of parties such as Shiv Sena and Akali Dal having left the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
Sharma thinks new entrants to the BJP such as Jyotiraditya Scindia have to be accommodated, as well as former Assam State Chief Sarbananda Sonowal and former Bihar Deputy State Chief Sushil Modi.
"The BJP's Bihar ally the JD(U) might also be given ministerial berths at the federal level. So, the expansion-cum-reshuffle will be as much political as administrative to reduce the workload of ministers holding multiple portfolios", Sharma, who is also associated with the Indian daily the Hindustan Times, added.
Many senior BJP leaders like Bhupendra Yadav from Rajasthan and Ashwini Vaishnaw from Odisha are among the new faces that may be included.
Most of these political leaders have already arrived in New Delhi.
Aside from the aforementioned individuals, some faces from local parties that are part of the BJP-led ruling alliance NDA, such as Uttar Pradesh-based Apna Dal, Bihar-based Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), and Janata Dal-United (JD-U) are likely to be tapped by PM Modi.
Rationale Behind Cabinet Shuffle: Several Ministers Carrying Heavy Burdens
According to Sharma, several current ministers are "overburdened" as they're holding multiple portfolios.
He referred to federal ministers like Hardeep Singh Puri who is currently in charge of three ministries - Housing and Urban Affairs, Civil Aviation, and Commerce and Industry.
Similarly, Narendra Singh Tomar runs the Ministry for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, and the Ministry of Food Processing.
Piyush Goyal is handling the Ministry of Railway, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry along with the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution. The same is true with other politicians like Prakash Javadekar and Ravi Shankar Prasad, who hold multiple portfolios.
It's Time to Decentralise the Power of the Prime Minister's Office
Explaining the need for a Cabinet reshuffle, Sharma said: "After a certain point, every government requires an image makeover".
But, according to him, just adding a number to the Cabinet will not help the government. "They need to honestly devolve powers to individual ministers to right-size the centralisation of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO)".
He further remarked that one has to wait to see whether the PM includes "industry experts and technocrats" as has long been speculated.
Key Industry Experts Find Places in Gov't Cabinet
In the past, Congress governments have included people like Manmohan Singh, economist Raghuram Rajan, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and Sam Pitroda (also called the father of India's computer and IT revolution).
Recently, the Tamil Nadu state government created an Economic Advisory Council that included Nobel laureate Esther Duflo, former Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan, and former Chief Economic Adviser to India Arvind Subramanian to strengthen economic growth in the state.
Quoting these examples, Sharma added: "This had been done in the past, and these experts are practical and futuristic. So, there is no shortage of advice if you [the BJP] are willing to listen".