As many as 10 ministers are said to have put in their papers to facilitate a comprehensive Cabinet reshuffle slated for Sunday morning, but curiously they have not sent their resignations to Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah but to the party’s national general secretary (organisation) Ram Lal.

Ram Lal is not an ordinary party functionary. He holds a key post, especially created to act as a bridge between the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. This post has always been important but acquired further clout after the BJP came to power at the Centre in 2014 and followed it with a string of victories in Assembly polls.

The very fact that the ministers were directed to send their resignations to Ram Lal clearly suggests that the Modi-Shah duo wish to underline that the party is supreme and above individuals. At the same time, the Cabinet reshuffle was put off by a day (it was earlier to be held on Saturday) because Shah had to attend an RSS programme in Vrindavan.

This was essentially meant to underline the Sangh’s primacy. They have chosen to send out such a message at a time when it is widely acknowledged by the BJP cadres that Modi and Shah are their unchallenged leaders with no room for another power centre. There have been murmurs that the two leaders have been acting independently of the RSS and have acquired a larger than life image. “Ours is a two-man party,” is a common refrain in the BJP these days.

In total control

The RSS, no doubt, plays a crucial role but the Modi-Shah duo have been to known to take independent decisions on many occasions in the past, which has made the Sangh uncomfortable.

“The move to send the resignations to Ram Lalji was meant to placate the RSS and emphasise that the party and the Sangh are all-important and that individual leaders are subordinate to them,” said a senior BJP leader.

Modi and Shah may have made a conscious attempt to mollify the RSS but there is little doubt in the BJP that these two leaders are in total control and that they call the shots in the party and the government. All other senior leaders, including Union minister Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley, are excluded from this core team.

The stream of ministers who dropped in to meet Shah on Thursday was a clear indication that not only does the BJP president have a vice-like grip over the party organisation but he also has a major say in the appointment of ministers. As in the case of the last Cabinet reshuffle, there has been an effective blurring of the lines between the party and the government.

Potential candidates

Even as they attempt to accommodate the RSS, Modi and Shah are in the process of finalising the new council of ministers with a firm eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the state assembly elections in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The poll-bound states are expected to be well represented in this reshuffle. Former Karnataka BJP president Prahlad Joshi is said to be likely to find a place in the new-look Union Cabinet. Anurag Thakur or former chief minister PK Dhumal from Himachal Pradesh are also expected to be accommodated. Backward class leader from Madhya Pradesh Prahlad Patel could be given a ministerial berth to replace Uma Bharati, also an OBC, who is said to be among the ministers who have resigned. In addition, Rajasthan’s OP Mathur is also a strong contender for a Cabinet post though his bête noire Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje is lobbying hard to deny him an entry to the Modi government.

While a regional balance is, of course, important, this reshuffle will be based on the performance of the ministers. “Those who fail to deliver will be out and may even be denied a ticket in the next round of elections,” explained a BJP leader. In addition, Modi and Shah also have to accommodate the latest entrants to the ruling alliance – the Janata Dal (United) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. While RCP Singh of the Janata Dal (United) is tipped to find a place in the new set-up, V Maitreyan and M Thambidurai from the AIADMK are also said to be in the reckoning for ministerial posts.

With Manohar Parrikar moving to Goa as chief minister and Suresh Prabhu offering to step down following a series of rail accidents, Modi has to find their replacements for the key portfolios of defence and railways. Transport and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari may be moved to railways but it is not clear who will make the cut for the crucial defence ministry. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is currently holding additional charge of this ministry. Others holding additional charge include Smriti Irani, Harshvardhan and Narendra Singh Tomar.