New Delhi: The stage is set for a much-awaited expansion and reshuffle of the Union council of ministers on Sunday. Not only have several ministers submitted their resignations in the run-up, Rashtrapati Bhavan has already initiated preparations for the swearing-in.

Expectations are that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will use the third ministerial rejig to impart fresh energy to his government—which will contest a general election in two years—and at the same time shuffle key people around to also rearrange the organizational structure of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The exercise comes in the backdrop of the tough scrutiny that the government has faced over its recent economic decisions—such as demonetization of high-value currency notes—and political parties readying for the next round of state elections.

At the same time, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has expanded in terms of membership and political footprint. Nitish Kumar, chief minister of Bihar and head of the Janata Dal (United), joined the fold recently and expectations are that the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam will do so too.

The composition—particularly in terms of those who are dropped—of the new council of ministers is also expected to reflect Modi’s tough standards on performance.

“Performance is the key in the cabinet expansion and reshuffle. It is expected that ministers who have performed well in the three years of government would be rewarded while those whose performance has not been satisfactory could be in trouble. This is probably the last cabinet expansion and reshuffle before the 2019 general elections, so government would want to focus on its own performance and its flagship programmes," said a senior BJP leader who did not want to be named.

While the names of the new ministers will be revealed on Sunday, some senior BJP leaders have already resigned from the government after being prompted to do so. Among those who are likely to lose their ministerial posts are Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Faggan Singh Kulhaste and Sanjeev Kumar Balyan, PTI reported; Mahendra Nath Pandey will exit the council as he has been appointed chief of the party’s Uttar Pradesh unit.

That some ministers have been told to leave is a sign of punishment, said the BJP leader cited above.

“A posting in the party would not compensate (for) the loss of ministerial post. It would only mean that the performance of these ministers was not up to the mark," the leader cited above added.

While the reshuffle and expansion will be done with an eye on the general elections, the BJP leadership will also use this opportunity to prepare for the upcoming assembly elections in six states—Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Rajasthan—where it is in a direct contest with the Congress.

“Obviously, the focus of the upcoming cabinet reshuffle is the 2019 elections and the strengthening of the party organization. The party needs stronger voices and spokespersons on the ground. The positive part in all this is that there have been long consultations this time within the party and the government," said N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst.

“The BJP has laid out its clear focus on 150 Lok Sabha seats which it did not win the last time and this cabinet reshuffle will be significant for that reason. One has to watch out for states and regions which get more attention," Rao added.

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