The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bharti shift surprise

New Delhi, Aug. 26: Twin surprises marked today’s revamp of the Union council of ministers when Madhya Pradesh MP Vikram Verma took over youth affairs and sports from Uma Bharti, who was shifted to the coal ministry. The shuffle was supposed to be confined to the Shiv Sena as it was prompted by party MP Suresh Prabhu’s resignation as power minister.

Sena minister of state for finance and company affairs Anant Geete replaced Prabhu while another Sena member, Anandrao Adsul, was brought in Geete’s place.

The latest round of expansion — the ninth in this tenure of the NDA government that took the council’s strength to 78 — also staved off Mamata Banerjee’s induction, at least for the time being.

Bharti’s shift to coal, which deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani held as additional charge after Ram Vilas Paswan’s exit, makes it clear she will not head the Madhya Pradesh BJP as the leadership had originally planned. Although former chief minister Kailash Joshi is tipped to take over the post, BJP sources said Bharti would be projected as the chief ministerial candidate in the elections due next year.

Bharti had reportedly conveyed her unwillingness to leave the Centre and return to Bhopal saying she would find it “tough” to lead the “faction-ridden” unit.

With Verma’s induction, the representation from Madhya Pradesh has gone up to three, the third being Satya Narain Jatiya. BJP sources said the Rajya Sabha MP was brought in to dispel the “misconception” that the state was under-represented despite its 20 MPs. In the run-up to the Assembly elections, the BJP felt it could not afford to risk that grouse.

NDA sources criticised Mamata for opposing the poll reforms Ordinance. “At least, we could understand what political compulsions prompted her to oppose the rail bifurcation,” they said. “But the recent statement was uncalled for. It looks like she wants to say goodbye to the NDA.”

The new ministers were administered the oath of office and secrecy by President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at Rashtrapati Bhavan’s Ashoka Hall. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Advani, and finance minister Jaswant Singh attended the swearing-in.

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