The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Two down and Trinamul two on course

New Delhi, May 23: The twin resignations today of Union ministers Ajit Singh and Gingee Ramachandran have set in motion the process of the latest Cabinet shuffle which will take place tomorrow evening.

Agriculture minister Singh put in his papers once it became clear the BJP was not even prepared to factor in the support of his 14 Uttar Pradesh MLAs before forcing him out. Singh, who heads the Rashtriya Lok Dal, has called a meeting tomorrow to take a decision on pulling out of the BJP-BSP coalition in Uttar Pradesh.

RLD legislator Pratap Choudhury said Singh resigned to protest the “problems of farmers which were not being addressed by the Vajpayee government”. He was also unhappy that a separate Harit Pradesh was not created.

The BJP is worried that the exit of Singh — a Jat leader who has off and on criticised the NDA’s policies in public — may affect its prospects in the Rajasthan elections. “Ajit Singh may not have benefited us by remaining in the government but by being out of it, he may cause damage,” a BJP leader said.

The resignations came even as Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee was in the midst of consultations with .K. Advani and Jaswant Singh and BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu to wrap up the shuffle exercise. Although the shuffle was billed “minor” and “NDA-centric”, its first casualties were from the non-BJP allies.

It is clear that the Trinamul Congress will be on board with not just Mamata Banerjee but her bete noire Sudip Bandopadhyay as well, thanks to the persistence of Advani and Naidu. Bandopadhyay claimed that Vajpayee had called up and offered him a berth.

Sources could not confirm which portfolio Mamata would get — civil aviation or coal and mines. Advani is reportedly against giving her civil aviation.

Civil aviation minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain’s shift to another ministry, possibly textiles, is certain. Although there was pressure to drop him — after “incriminating” evidence allegedly linking him to questionable deals surfaced — he has been retained as the only Muslim face in the government.

Textiles minister Kashiram Rana could be sent to rural development. If Mamata agrees to coal and mines, incumbent Karia Munda will have to be accommodated elsewhere.

Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh is likely to be inducted as agriculture minister. On the cards also is the induction of a junior BJP minister each from poll-bound Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Pramod Mahajan has suggested the names of Prahlad Patel (Madhya Pradesh) and Kailash Meghwal (a Dalit from Rajasthan).

P.C. Thomas, who formed a confederation of rebel MPs and Independents called the Indian Federal Democratic Party, and Chandraveer Singh of the Loktantrik Party could be taken in as ministers of state. Surface transport minister B.C. Khanduri could be given Cabinet status.


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