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Will there be a Muslim in Narendra Modi's cabinet?
Sunday May 25, 2014 6:06 PM, Staff Reporter

While the names of 55 probable candidates for ministerial berths have been shortlisted, suspense persisted Sunday if there will be any Muslim in Narendra Modi's cabinet. Modi is considered as a hardline RSS pracharak who created history by almost single-handily leading BJP to historic win.

Zafar with Modi
[Zafar Sareshwala with Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi in a file photo.]

But, if the sources in New Delhi's power circles are to be beleived, there will certainly be at least one Muslim in the Modi's cabinet who will take oath along with him tomorrow.

Though there is no mention of Shahnawaz Hussain, the only Muslim who contested the 2014 general election on BJP ticket but lost, and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who is a BJP Vice-President - both ministers in the NDA government led by the BJP, the names doing the rounds in the power corridor are of Zafar Sareshwala and Asifa Khan.

Sources close to the New Delhi's power circle revealed that the way Modi is projecting his 'Gujarat Model' and the way he is importing everything right from close aide to chefs, Modi may sprang a surprise by including Zafar Sareshwala in his cabinet.

Zafar Sareshwala is a businessman and said to be a key Modi advisor on Muslim issues. He is the person who is with Modi since last few years, and played key roles in arranging secret and open meetings of few Muslim leaders including ex-Deoband rector Ghulam Mohd Vastanvi and Mehmood Madanai – secretary of a faction of Jamiatul Ulelma Hind, with Narendra Modi in the runner-up to the Lok Sabha election.

Considered one of Modi's trusted backroomboys and a person said to have now former Gujarat chief minister on speed dial, Zafar Sareshwala was also the man who arranged the meeting of Salman Khan with Modi, and later organised the launch of Modi's election campaign website in the Urdu language by the hands of Salim Khan, Salman Khan's father.

Another Muslim whose name is doing the rounds is of Asifa Khan. Asifa Khan also hails from Gujarat and she is currently BJP Gujarat's spokesperson. A teacher-turned-journalist from Bharuch, groomed in politics by Congress strongman Ahmed Patel, Asifa Khan, 49, is considered as BJP's most popular minority face.

Asifa Khan, the crisp saree-clad BJP face on national television, made no news when she joined the Congress in 2008 and worked for four years as media convener of the All India Mahila Congress. After a meeting with Modi in October 2012, she joined the BJP and now finds herself catapulted to its national media committee.

A postgraduate in English literature, Asifa started out as a teacher in a school run by Gujarat Narmada Fertiliser Ltd (GNFC), a PSU based in Bharuch where her husband works, and got interested in politics. She learnt the ropes from none other than Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel, also from Bharuch.

Her skills in English, Hindi and Urdu saw her move up from the BJP's national minority morcha to its media committee and she can be seen constantly defending Modi.

Another person who is being considered as a minister in Modi's cabinet is Dr Najma Heptullah. Once a prominent Congress member in the Rajya Sabha, she left the party in 2004 due to a strain in relationship with top party leaders for her close association with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-headed NDA Government and joined the BJP.

Najma Heptullah was reelected to the Upper House five times between 1986 and 2012 and was elected to a one-year term as the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha in 1985, She again served in that post from late 1988 to mid-2004.

Rising quickly in the BJP leadership, she was fielded by the party as a candidate for the post of Vice President against the UPA nominee, Hamid Ansari. She, however, lost the election.

Meanwhile, in line with Modi's concept of "minimum government maximum governance", a super-infrastructure ministry is being created, in which surface transport, civil aviation, metro, railways, roads, among others, will be included. A leader with experience and expertise in the sector could head the super-infrastructure ministry.

Sources revealed that Ananth Kumar has been offered parliamentary affairs and an additional ministry. Key NDA allies, which include the Akali Dal, Shiv Sena and the TD, would get a Cabinet berth each.

Also, if Rajnath Singh gets home, Sushma Swaraj could head defence or external affairs (MEA). Arun Jaitley continues to be in the reckoning for either finance or MEA. The final list of names will be sent to President Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday night.

Sources said that the list of 55 candidates was shortlisted on Friday night. A debate has been raging in the party and among top leaders on whether to include old-timers. It is being felt that leaders over 75 should not be considered for ministerial berths or key positions.

This is why, sources revealed, shocks await for party elders LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, and it is most likely that their names may not figure in the final list of ministers.

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