The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shatru Cabinet tinker target

New Delhi, Jan. 21: The next Cabinet shuffle is expected by end-January, after the Republic Day celebrations are over.

BJP sources said the exercise would only affect ministers from the party and not its allies.

Although Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee discussed the matter briefly with L.K. Advani before the deputy Prime Minister left for Qatar yesterday, some loose ends need to be tied.

Health minister Shatrughan Sinha and law minister K. Jana Krishnamurthi are expected to be the main casualties. It is believed that while Krishnamurthi will be dropped from the Cabinet, Sinha may be given a lesser portfolio that would not require his “complete time and attention”.

Krishnamurthi, who was inducted as a minister after being removed as BJP president in the last round, was reportedly resisting being subject to a second humiliation. Although he was offered governorship, it is learnt that the minister has threatened to quit the BJP if he is dropped.

Former health minister C.P. Thakur, who was shown the door last July, is likely to be reinstated. Gujarat veteran Keshubhai Patel will also be inducted, the sources said.

The reasons are political. Thakur belongs to the influential Bhumihar community of Bihar, which was up in arms when he was dropped. It accused the BJP of “victimising” one of its most successful MPs who had repeatedly won the Patna seat even after quitting his parent party, the Congress.

Keshubhai’s prospective induction is seen as a “reward” for sticking to the BJP and his former bete noire, Narendra Modi, during the Gujarat elections and ensuring that the party was not worsted in its stronghold, Saurashtra, as was initially feared.

“It is a signal to ministers like Shanta Kumar that they should behave themselves,” the sources said.

Kumar, a former chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, is believed to be “hostile” towards incumbent Prem Kumar Dhumal and not “wholly cooperative” in working for the impending Assembly election.

Neither Vajpayee nor Advani is keen on obliging Mamata Banerjee and would rather have the Trinamul Congress leader cool her heels, the sources added. Both are interested in bringing the National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah to the Centre but the problem is to find a portfolio that matches his “profile and stature”.

Abdullah had reportedly hinted at civil aviation but the Prime Minister wants Shahnawaz Hussain to continue in the ministry.

From the BJP, general secretary Rajnath Singh is keen to return to the Cabinet.

Singh was surface transport minister before being sent to Lucknow as party chief and the word from the BJP headquarters is that the portfolio might be restored to him.

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