The stage is set for the formation of the new NDA government with Prime Minister Narendra Modi holding a marathon meeting lasting around five hours Tuesday at his residence with BJP president Amit Shah, sources told The Indian Express.
The two leaders, who were together in Ahmedabad and Varanasi over the last few days, are also believed to have made use of some of the travel time to discuss this issue. However, there was no official word on the closed-door deliberations between the two.
Speculation over Shah’s entry in the Cabinet has been intense since the BJP won the Lok Sabha elections with a massive mandate. While a section in the BJP believes that Shah could join the government as he had done the “maximum” for the party, another group argued that he would not leave its helm now. Party leaders said Shah has not given any hint about his role post May 30.
Sources said Shah has spoken to all the BJP state unit presidents and leaders for inputs and suggestions on government formation. The party organisation is learnt to be keen to have its gains in new fronts — West Bengal, Odisha, North-East and Telangana — reflected in the new council of ministers. The BJP won 44 of 88 Lok Sabha seats across West Bengal, Odisha and the North-East this time. Telangana is where the BJP sees a “window of opportunity” after winning four seats.
All eyes are also on the participation of NDA partners — Shiv Sena, JDU, LJP, Akali Dal and AIADMK — who were given pride of place on the dais during the NDA Parliamentary Party meeting.
Within the BJP, speculation is rife that Smriti Irani, who defeated Congress president Rahul Gandhi in his family bastion Amethi, is likely to get a key post. But there is no clarity over senior party leader Sushma Swaraj’s position in the new government. Swaraj, Foreign Minister in the previous government, is not a member of either House and did not contest the Lok Sabha polls due to poor health.
Party sources pointed to suggestions on including senior West Bengal leader Mukul Roy, who switched to the BJP from TMC and played a key role in the party’s success in the state. Sources also indicated that one or two senior office-bearers of the BJP could join the team.
Meanwhile, the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Modi for a second term on May 30 will possibly mark a new record for a single event at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, which is preparing to host 6,000 guests in the forecourt.
The guest list, according to officials, includes visiting heads of state from BIMSTEC countries, the Kyrgyz Republic and Mauritius, and political leaders, diplomats, chief ministers, academics, writers, celebrities, sportspeople, film personalities and achievers. The one notable absentee from last time will be the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
The Ministry of External Affairs confirmed the participation of Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Kyrgyz Republic President Sooronbay Jeenbekov, Myanmar President U Win Myint, Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering and Thailand’s Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Grisada Boonrach as a special envoy.
The ceremony will be followed by a vegetarian High Tea for guests and a small private banquet hosted by President Ram Nath Kovind for visiting dignitaries where Dal Raisina, an in-house innovation that takes 48 hours to cook, will be served.
This is the fourth time that a Prime Minister will be sworn-in at the forecourt. The preferred swearing-in venue usually is the Durbar Hall. The only two other Prime Ministers, who have been sworn-in with the grand Rashtrapati Bhavan edifice as a backdrop, are AB Vajpayee and Chandrashekhar.
The Durbar Hall, where Nehru was sworn-in for his first term and delivered his iconic speech, seats just 500 but another reason why it has not been preferred in recent years is its poor acoustics.
Ashok Malik, press secretary to President Kovind, said: “Emphasis is on simplicity and dignity, in keeping with a solemn occasion. The President and the Prime Minister are both clear that it should not be an ostentatious function. As far as I know, Rashtrapati Bhavan has never hosted such a large gathering for a single event.”
The High Tea menu is expected to include lemon tarts, sandwiches, samosas and the appropriately named sweet Rajbhog. The banquet for visiting dignitaries would have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options depending on the preference of guests, starting with a lemon coriander soup.
There will be a light dinner for the visiting dignitaries because many are from countries to India’s east and we have to take into consideration their cuisine, which is not rich and heavy, as well as the fact that it will be very late for them in terms of their local time,” an official said.