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Cabinet expansion likely today

By Kalyan Barooah

NEW DELHI, July 4 - After months of speculation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to expand his Council of Ministers on Tuesday. Nagaon Lok Sabha MP Rajen Gohain is likely to be inducted in Modi�s Cabinet.

Gohain confirmed to this newspaper that he got a call from the office of BJP national president Amit Shah to meet him in Delhi tonight. In all, 16 MPs, all ministerial aspirants, on Monday met Shah.

However, other six MPs from Assam did not get any call from the party�s top boss, disheartening them. Ramen Deka, who was a hot favourite, also did not get any call from Shah�s office.

Sources said that Gohain, who is a four-time Lok Sabha member, is the seniormost of Assam BJP MPs and belongs to the OBC community. The overwhelming performance of the BJP in upper Assam, where several of the Congress stalwarts suffered defeat and as a recognition of the support extended by the Ahom community, Gohain was rewarded, said party sources.

Another BJP leader said that initially two names � Ramen Deka and Rajen Gohain � were suggested to the Prime Minister�s Office (PMO), out of which the Nagaon MP was selected. Deka is a second time MP and a member of the Lok Sabha Speaker�s Panel.

It has been learnt that there are only a few vacancies in the Council of Ministers, which the Prime Minister is expected to fill. Sarbananda Sonowal became the Chief Minister of Assam and induction of a new Sports Minister is on the cards. A berth is also vacant for ally Shiv Sena.

Currently, there are 66 ministers in the Council of Ministers, including the Prime Minister. According to the Constitution, there is provision for 82 ministers. Sources say Modi may induct new faces in his Cabinet.

Modi has held long discussions with the BJP president over the last 45 days to finalise the changes which will happen a day before he leaves on a four-nation Africa tour on July 7. Last week, Modi held a meeting with Shah, which lasted for over four hours. The meet was considered significant as the two are also said to have discussed changes in the BJP�s organisational structure.

The changes in the Cabinet and the BJP are crucial for the party as the NDA government is approaching the halfway mark of its five-year term. The new Council of Ministers and the BJP office-bearers, who will have a three-year term, will lead the party to the next Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

Sources say that a lot of assessment has gone into deciding the contours of the new Cabinet. Modi last week held a five-hour-long meeting with his Council of Minister and reviewed how each department has spent the money allocated in the last three NDA budgets. The Prime Minister in the meet asked for speedy implementation of policies and indicated that some ministries needed to perform better.

Sources said there may be no changes in the top four portfolios � Home, Finance, Defence and External Affairs.

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