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Bharti puts in papers
- Round of resignations before shuffle

New Delhi, Jan. 28: Union minister Uma Bharti has put in her papers ahead of tomorrow’s Cabinet shuffle after she and her colleagues K. Jana Krishnamurthi, Nikhil Choudhary and Rita Verma were asked to do so, BJP sources said today.

Pramod Mahajan and Ananth Kumar are also likely to be drafted for party work as general secretaries in what is expected to be the last such exercise before the Lok Sabha elections next year, the sources added.

Describing the shuffle as one geared for the general elections next year and the Assembly polls this year, sources said the aim was to “shore up” the party organisation to “take on the challenges ahead of us”. In line with this, Bharti would be named president of the BJP in election-bound Madhya Pradesh.

A final decision on who should come in and who should exit will be taken at a meeting between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu tomorrow morning.

It was hoped that Bharti’s resignation as coal and mines minister would mount pressure on the minister of state for personnel, Vasundhara Raje, to follow suit.

Vasundhara — named chief of the BJP in Rajasthan, which will also vote this year — reportedly resisted giving up her ministership till this morning despite cajoling by Advani and Naidu.

As a last-ditch measure, the leaders requested Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat to speak to the minister because it was at his instance that she was given charge of the state.

Sources said Vasundhara had argued that it was “unfair” to ask her to quit when another chief ministerial candidate, Bharti, had the “luxury” of staying on in the Cabinet.

Till last night, Advani was of the view that since Bharti had not been formally designated Madhya Pradesh unit chief — Rajya Sabha MP Kailash Joshi holds the post — she should continue as minister.

This morning, Joshi met Advani, following which Bharti was asked to put in her papers. However, there was no word on whether Vasundhara had done likewise.

With the decks cleared for Arun Jaitley’s return to the Cabinet, possibly as law minister again, speculation was rife in the BJP headquarters that it was the turn of another heavyweight, Mahajan, to go back to the party.

Naidu is reported to have insisted that if he loses an important functionary like Jaitley, he should be recompensed with another of equal stature. According to sources, Jaitley was likely to be handed back law with company affairs. Company affairs was taken out of the law ministry after Krishnamurthi took over.

Advani zeroed in on Mahajan, who holds the infotech, communications and parliamentary affairs portfolios, to replace Jaitley as the general secretary in Naidu’s team. He spoke to Mahajan yesterday.

In the last shuffle involving the party and the government, there was a move to anoint Mahajan as president before the leaders finally agreed on Naidu. Sources were still sceptical whether the high-profile minister would agree to work as Naidu’s subordinate.

Another general secretary, Rajnath Singh, could be inducted into the Cabinet to get him “out of the way” in Uttar Pradesh because he has been critical of the BSP and chief minister Mayavati. The BJP leadership sees the BSP as a long-term ally.

If Mahajan is moved to the party, information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj is likely to get parliamentary affairs. It is still unclear who would get infotech and communications. There was also a move to give health to her and shift the incumbent minister, Shatrughan Sinha, to youth affairs, now held by VikramVerma in addition to sports.

The induction of C.P. Thakur and Keshubhai Patel is certain. Choudhary’s resignation paves the way for Thakur’s return since both are Bhumihars from Bihar.

Rita Verma’s ouster, too, was considered a political decision to “rectify” the over-representation of Bihar’s Kayasthas in the ministry. Although Kayasthas constitute barely one per cent of the state’s population, there are four ministers belonging to the caste —Verma, Yashwant Sinha, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Shatrughan Sinha.

Among those who might be made ministers of state are Jaskaur Meena (Rajasthan), Sangh Priya Gautam (Uttar Pradesh) and Dilip Singh Judev (Chhattisgarh).

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