Modi 'may reshuffle Cabinet to push reforms'

NEW DELHI • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi may look to press the reset button on his leadership this year to reinvigorate stalled economic reforms and appease critics.

He is eyeing a mix of tried and tested allies and fresh blood, senior government sources said.

The government has overseen rapid economic growth but failed on tax and land reforms, and the euphoria that met Mr Modi's 2014 election triumph has given way to investor disillusionment.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faces a crucial election test in the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh next year that it probably needs to win if it wants to hold on to power nationally in 2019.

With an eye on Uttar Pradesh, Mr Modi looks set to keep Mr Amit Shah on as BJP president, the sources said, extending his closest aide and election campaign manager's tenure by three years when it expires this weekend.

But Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, responsible for delivering the Modi message to international investors, may move to defence after he delivers his annual Budget late next month, sources said.

Mr Jaitley, 63, has failed to push through a major tax reform and critics have faulted his stewardship over India's US$2 trillion (S$2.85 trillion) economy, which is growing fast but not creating enough jobs to employ an expanding workforce.

A spokesman for Mr Modi declined to comment and an official in Mr Jaitley's office said he had no knowledge of a possible reshuffle.

Moving Mr Jaitley to defence, a post he also held in the early months of the Modi government, could better suit the veteran corporate lawyer and keep the strategically important portfolio in trusted hands.

It would also open the way for Power and Coal Minister Piyush Goyal to take the finance portfolio, while underperformers in other minor posts may be weeded out.

A federal minister and two BJP officials said Mr Goyal, 51, was being groomed for his next big role, but a Goyal aide denied knowledge of an impending promotion.

Mr Goyal, an ex-investment banker, is a good communicator and has often travelled abroad with Mr Modi, although he lacks political experience.

Mr Modi, who has relentlessly centralised power in the prime minister's office, has held his cards close to his chest and would have the last word on recruiting new talent from a pool of candidates that is short on experience.

Veteran newspaper editor Shekhar Gupta noted the stakes are high. "Modi needs to identify new talent and bring changes in his government. It will be too late if he fails to do it now."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Modi 'may reshuffle Cabinet to push reforms''. Print Edition | Subscribe