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BJP whips out berth wishlist
- Disagreement on which ministry to give Mamata

New Delhi, May 19: With Atal Bihari Vajpayee indicating that his main objective in effecting the next Cabinet reshuffle was to “strengthen the NDA”, the BJP today unveiled its own wishlist to the Prime Minister.

During the first round of consultations that Vajpayee had with his deputy .K. Advani and BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu after returning from Manali, it was conveyed to him that the rural development ministry — which Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee was reportedly keen on — must remain with the BJP.

The portfolio was earlier with Naidu and went to Himachal Pradesh veteran Shanta Kumar after he took over the party. Kumar was forced to give it up as “punishment” for allegedly sabotaging the party’s Assembly poll prospects.

“With an annual budget of Rs 14,000 crore and the party’s emphasis on the gaon chalo abhiyan (go to the village campaign), we cannot afford to give it away to another NDA constituent,” said well-placed party sources, explaining the BJP’s claim over rural development.

The other department Mamata reportedly eyed was surface transport, which is also with the BJP’s B.C. Khanduri.

But giving this ministry away, sources maintained, would be just as “problematic”, given that the BJP and more so, Vajpayee, regarded the Golden Quadrilateral project — the super-highway project launched by the government — as one of its “crowning” achievements. The assessment was that Khanduri was doing a good job and there was no tangible reason to unseat him.

Trinamul sources, however, maintained that Mamata was not “dictating terms” and would consider the Prime Minister’s offer “on its merit” as and when it was made.

Sources said it was likely that rural development would go to a new inductee from the BJP organisation and the name most frequently mentioned was that of former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh.

BJP sources also ruled out chances of taking in National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, though it is believed that Vajpayee himself was keen on him. “Farooq is part of the Prime Minister’s peace initiative and his induction would send a good message to the Valley, which is presently unrepresented at the Centre. After all, the NC is still part of the coalition,” said sources close to Vajpayee.

Although Vajpayee was interested in bringing the Bahujan Samaj Party on board the NDA, Mayavati ruled out such chances.

In a statement from Lucknow, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister said: “All such reports appearing in a section of the media are far from true and imaginary. The party’s stand is clear that it would extend full support to the Union government from outside but would not join it.”

BSP sources said Mayavati was peeved with reports that linked her sacking controversial minister Amarmani Tripathi (after he was named in Madhumita Shukla’s murder) at the BJP’s “behest” to joining the coalition.

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