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Allies, caste equations, poll-bound states likely to impact cabinet reshuffle

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Amid speculations of a reshuffle and expansion of the Narendra Modi Council of Ministers, hectic activity is on as the BJP brass is working on keeping the caste equations in Bihar and poll-bound Uttar Pradesh in focus as well as accommodating leaders who have joined the party or have been moved to the Centre.

The developments in Lok Janshakti Party are set to have an impact on the much-expected cabinet reshuffle as both BJP and JDU are eyeing the sizable Paswan votes. With Chirag Paswan losing support of his party MPs, his uncle Pashupati Nath Paras has emerged as the likely beneficiary of the vacancy caused due to the passing away of Ram Vilas Paswan. Sources in BJP and JDU said the two parties will be closely watching which way the Pasi voters- who constitute 5% of the Bihar electorate and vote en masse- go in the coming days.

“Paras has a connect with the ground and used to handle the LJP affairs in Bihar. He has a hold over the voters. Chirag is banking solely on being Ram Vilas Paswan’s son to get the support of his caste. He is seen as an outsider who spends most of his time with his Punjabi relatives (his mother is a Punjabi),” a JDU leader said.

Sources said JDU, which has 16 Lok Sabha MPs from Bihar, has been demanding four berths in the Modi Council of Ministers and is ready to count Paras as a part of its share. BJP, with 17 MPs, has one cabinet, one Minister of State (Independent Charge) and two ministers of state from Bihar in Modi’s team. However, BJP is reportedly willing to give one seat to LJP while JDU may have to settle for two.

“We had issues with Chirag as he put up candidates against the JDU in the Bihar Assembly elections and ensured the defeat of 36 of our candidates. But Paras has been in favour of working with both JDU and BJP,” the JDU leader said.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar created the Most Backward Castes category which has stayed loyal to JDU. At Ram Vilas Paswan’s behest, Kumar had included Pasis in the Mahadalit category though this caste has always been considered powerful as they have taken up fights against the Upper Castes in Bihar. Kumar would naturally hope to reap the political dividends of this step.

Home Minister Amit Shah has held meetings with the BJP Bihar unit in the last few days.

Shah has also met party MPs and leaders from other states. In UP, BJP is working on consolidating the backward caste votes for the Assembly elections due in February-March. Apna Dal leader Anupriya Patel had met Shah soon after UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s meeting last week. She is expected to get a berth in Modi’s team as the party is trying to woo the Kurmi votes. The Nishad and Rajbhar communities are also on BJP’s radar but they may get representation in Yogi Adityanath’s team in case there is an expansion.

There are several vacancies in the union council of ministers. Union Minister Piyush Goyal, Narendra Singh Tomar, Prakash Javadekar and Hardeep Puri are holding additional charge of important ministries. Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sarbanand Sonowal and Anil Baluni are among those who may get a berth in the expansion. It is not clear if former Bihar Deputy CM Sushil Modi will become a minister or the party will use his services in key parliamentary committees.

Some leaders from West Bengal also stand a chance of becoming union ministers as BJP is trying to halt the exodus to TMC and is trying to keep the morale of the cadre high.

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