NEW DELHI: A day before Amit Shah was meant to depart for Chennai, the BJP confirmed that its president's itinerary has been revised and that he will remain in Delhi because of "a greater need to have him in the capital over the next few days."
A senior party leader confirmed to NDTV that the change in plans could be due to an anticipated reshuffle of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet. Mr Shah has been meeting one-on-one with ministers of state like Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Upendra Kushwaha, triggering talk of a new flow chart.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's party, the Janata Dal United, is joining the PM's national coalition and will be entitled to union ministries. Sources said that Mr Kumar has been asked to travel to Delhi next week and that after being offered the choice of one union cabinet minister or two junior minister positions, he has chosen the latter for his party.
Similarly, the Shiv Sena, a cranky constituent of the BJP's national coalition, is allegedly coveting either the Home Ministry in Maharashtra, where it is a member of the state government, or one cabinet post and two Ministers of State. In 2014, senior party leader Anil Desai had famously refused to emerge from the airport in Delhi after flying down from Mumbai because he was not included in the cabinet; he flew back to the financial capital on the orders of his boss and party chief Uddhav Thackeray.
The political climate in Tamil Nadu has also changed dramatically today. The AIADMK, which governs the state, has sided with the union government on key legislation and is seen as a "friendly party", which is why PM Modi made time recently to meet with the leaders of its two rival wings. They reunited today months after a fracture caused by the death of its charismatic and supremely powerful leader, J Jayalalithaa.
There was substantial talk in Chennai about the reunification being announced ahead of Mr Shah's arrival in Chennai, a move that would allow him and the BJP to be seen as a driving force in Tamil Nadu's politics, even if behind the scenes. The state has been largely barren for the BJP, and Mr Shah has included it in his plans for expanding the party's footprint.
The BJP's Muralidhar Rao, who is in-charge of southern states, had landed in Chennai to organize a large welcome for Mr Shah, giving away the last-minute nature of the cancellation.
Mr Shah's office refused to comment about Chennai being ditched. However, the party president is due to meet BJP chief ministers along with the Prime Minister this evening. Rashtrapati Bhavan sources said they have been given no notice about swearing-in new ministers; President Ram Nath Kovind returns to Delhi this evening from a trip to Leh.
The cabinet is long overdue for changes, say government sources. Arun Jaitley runs two key ministries - Finance and Defence - not seen as ideal at a time when relations with Pakistan are poor and India and China are engaged in their worst military confrontation in decades at the border in Sikkim. With Venkaiah Naidu being elected Vice President, the key ministry of Information and Broadcasting is being handled as an additional charge by Textiles Minister Smriti Irani.