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Heartland set to gain one, lose one in Cabinet

New Delhi, May 2: The Union Cabinet is headed for yet another reshuffle shortly after the budget session ends on May 9, BJP sources said.

Consultations for the exercise are expected to begin on Monday after the “samanvay” (co-ordination) conclave of the BJP and the RSS, which is currently on in the capital, gets over.

Although the reshuffle was initially meant to accommodate NDA allies — as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had mentioned after the last revamp in February — sources said it would again involve the BJP as well.

The spadework, therefore, was being done at the conclave.

Among the changes likely at the BJP end is the induction of party general secretary and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh. The BJP feels Rajnath is at sea in the party organisation and has failed to carve out a niche for himself despite being put in charge of important election-bound states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

“His heart still seems to be in Uttar Pradesh,” sources pointed out. The BJP sees this as the root of the problem, the sources said, adding that Rajnath was unable to reconcile himself to the party’s alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh and was allegedly making statements detrimental to its continuance.

However, Rajnath cannot be completely marginalised because of the need to retain upper-caste votes, which have been slipping away after the BJP consorted with Mayavati.

The other Uttar Pradesh-related proposal is to drop agriculture minister Ajit Singh for targeting finance minister Jaswant Singh in his public meetings and insinuating that the fiscal policies he had piloted were for the rich. On April 27, he openly supported the agitation for a separate Telengana state, which was spearheaded by a BJP rebel in Andhra Pradesh, and shared the dais with former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda.

The RSS-BJP summit is expected to discuss how Ajit Singh’s proposed exit would affect equations in the heartland. The BJP’s own assessment is that while his Rashtriya Lok Dal benefited from the alliance in west Uttar Pradesh in terms of consolidating Jat votes and winning the BJP’s upper-caste votes, the ruling party did not gain all that much.

Labour minister Sahib Singh Verma — also a Jat — is being considered as a likely replacement for Ajit Singh to maintain the caste balance.

There is speculation that communications will be dropped from Arun Shourie’s charge and will be handed over to Sushma Swaraj. But she would have to give back the health ministry to C.P. Thakur, who was dropped in June last year and reinducted nine months later. Sushma will continue to hold parliamentary affairs.

The reshuffle could also see the entry of Trinamul Congress leaders Mamata Banerjee and Sudip Bandopadhyay, the latter as a junior minister.

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