As Modi 3.0 Ministers Sign In, BJP Has Two More Key Posts To Fill

The 72 ministers of the third Narendra Modi government took the oath Sunday

New Delhi:

With Modi 3.0’s swearing-in done and portfolios allocated to the new ministers, the ruling BJP now has two key tasks at hand — choosing a new Speaker for Lok Sabha and naming a party chief.

BJP president JP Nadda, who was Health Minister in the first Narendra Modi government, has been brought back to the cabinet this time. He now holds the portfolios of Health and Family Welfare, as well as Chemicals and Fertilizers. The new BJP president will have to hit the ground running as Assembly elections are due later this year in Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra.

The other task on the BJP’s agenda is finalising the NDA’s choice for a Lok Sabha Speaker. N Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP and Nitish Kumar’s JDU, BJP’s key allies whose support is critical for the government’s majority, are eyeing the post, it is learnt. This comes against the backdrop of mutinies over the past couple of years that have split parties and toppled governments. In such cases, the anti-defection law comes into play, and the Speaker of the House becomes a crucial post. Mr Naidu and Mr Kumar, both Coalition-era veterans, want the Speaker’s post as a shield against any such tactic.

Sources in the BJP, however, have said they are not keen to hand over the Speaker’s post. While there is no official word yet, the name of Andhra Pradesh BJP chief D Purandeshwari is doing the rounds for the key position. Ms Purandeshwari is the daughter of former Chief Minister and legendary actor NT Rama Rao and the sister-in-law of Mr Naidu. Her husband, Daggubati Venkateshwara Rao, is a former Congress MP and MLA who later joined YSR Congress Party.

She was first elected to Lok Sabha on a Congress ticket and also served as a Union Minister in the Manmohan Singh government. She resigned from the Congress to protest against the UPA government’s decision to carve the state of Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh. Ms Purandeshwari joined the BJP in 2014 and has risen to become its state chief.

The three-time MP not being accommodated in the Modi 3.0 cabinet has surprised many and set off speculation that she may be the BJP’s choice for the Speaker post.

Another post that remained vacant through Modi 2.0 is that of the Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha. During the first Narendra Modi government, M Thambidurai of the AIADMK, then an ally of the BJP, was named for the post. The question is if the BJP will keep this post or offer it to its allies.