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May ministry bells for Mamata

New Delhi, April 4: Mamata Banerjee is likely to be inducted into the Vajpayee Cabinet in mid-May after the budget session ends on May 9.

Earlier, there had been talk of her induction in a ministry shuffle during Parliament’s recess between March 14 and April 6.

But the Prime Minister, sources said, wants to overhaul his ministry after the budget session to give the government a fresh and vibrant look in the run-up to elections in five states and the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.

Mamata looks certain to be inducted after managing to win the goodwill of deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.

Speculation is rife that the Trinamul Congress chief will get the rural development portfolio held by senior BJP leader Shanta Kumar. Kumar might either be dropped or shifted following his uncharitable comments on former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal before the party’s rout in the state.

The Trinamul chief has announced that her party will contest the panchayat elections on May 11 with the BJP on a joint manifesto. Sources said she will stay put in Calcutta till April 20-21 to oversee the campaign for the civic polls.

If in view of the panchayat elections the Prime Minister decides to undertake a limited expansion by only inducting Mamata, she might visit Delhi before that.

A shuffle could still take place during the Parliament session after April 10, when there are holidays. But sources close to the Prime Minister discounted the possibility.

Labour minister Sahib Singh Verma, who was recently in a controversy for allegedly manhandling Jet Airways staff, might be shifted. His handling of the labour portfolio, which is crucial to the disinvestment process, has also come under flak.

Sources said Verma might be shifted to another ministry. But for his hold on Delhi’s Jat vote bank, he would have been dropped, they said.

The Prime Minister might also have to think about an incumbent in the ministry of commerce, which law minister Arun Jaitley is holding as additional charge. Sources in the DMK said the party is still undecided about whether to allow Murasoli Maran to rejoin. Maran, who had been ill for some time and was taken to the US for treatment, is now fit to take charge.

The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), which has two ministers of state in the NDA government, is uncomfortable with the Centre following its controversial affidavit before the Supreme Court endorsing MDMK chief Vaiko’s arrest and detention in Vellore jail under the anti-terror law.

Though the government has backtracked and withdrawn the offending affidavit, Vaiko is meeting his party colleagues next week to decide whether or not to continue with the NDA.

In case the MDMK pulls out, Vajpayee has to find two new faces.

Other names from the BJP being bandied about for possible induction are former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh and former Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel.

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