GUWAHATI, Aug 18 - The long-anticipated expansion of the Sarbananda Sonowal-led ministry, which was expected to take place this month, is now likely to be delayed, with senior BJP leaders stating that inducting new members in the team at a time when the State is experiencing unprecedented floods would be unwise.
Senior BJP leaders told The Assam Tribune that the expansion and reshuffle is now only likely in September. It was earlier scheduled to take place in the second half of August itself.
�To expand the ministry at this juncture would be very bad politically. At a time when lakhs of people are reeling under floods it would be na�ve to imagine that voters of Assam will accept any argument put forth justifying expansion of the ministry,� said a party leader on the condition of anonymity.
Sonowal has over the last couple of months held talks with senior central BJP leaders including party chief Amit Shah regarding the expansion and reshuffle.
There are currently eight vacancies in the Sonowal ministry, which took charge in May last year. NDA allies AGP and BPF have been demanding two additional berths each but the BJP is unwilling to give more than one slot each to the regional parties during the expansion exercise.
�The decision to delay the expansion was arrived at after Sonowal spoke with senior party leaders in New Delhi, where he is currently on a visit,� said sources.
Asked if criticism from various quarters, including former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, regarding expanding the ministry during the time of severe floods may have prompted the ruling alliance to opt for a delay, a senior BJP leader said, �Absolutely not. Tarun Gogoi�s relevance in Assam�s politics is nowadays zero. The Congress party is in a shambles.�
On being contacted, State BJP president Ranjeet Kumar Dass claimed that he is not aware about the likelihood of a delay in the expansion.
Meanwhile, Assam BJP spokesperson Dr Rajdeep Roy said that Sonowal�s visit to New Delhi is primarily focused on flood-related matters.
�Mitigating the suffering of the people of Assam and finding a permanent solution to the State�s flood and erosion problems is the priority of the government. The Central government is also interested in assisting our State. The Chief Minister is meeting officials concerned and others in New Delhi in this regard,� Dr Roy said.
He, however refused to comment on the issue of ministry expansion or likelihood of delay in the exercise.
To a question if any delay, if that happens, may be on account of dissension among multiple claimants to ministerial berths, Dr Roy categorically denied such a scenario.
�Expansion and reshuffle of the ministry is the prerogative of the Chief Minister and he will take a decision in consultation with our senior party leadership as well as leaders of our alliance partners. There is no question of having multiple claimants for ministerial vacancies,� said Dr Roy.