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Mamata set to wait longer for shuffle

New Delhi, July 5: Mamata Banerjee’s presence at the last NDA gathering and her subsequent meeting with L.K. Advani may have triggered speculation of another Cabinet shuffle, but the official word is that the Centre has not yet “applied its mind” to the exercise or begun preliminary consultations.

BJP sources said considering Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the deputy Prime Minister were otherwise preoccupied, the shuffle may not occur before the monsoon session that starts on July 21.

This week, the BJP top brass may have enough on their hands, with the All India Muslim Personal Law Board to respond tomorrow to the Kanchi Sankaracharya’s proposal on the Ram temple. The RSS today passed a resolution on Ayodhya at its Kanyakumari conclave.

If the board responds positively to the seer’s proposal, the government may have to step in more directly instead of allowing Jayendra Saraswati to pilot negotiations. If the seer’s formula is rejected, it is expected that the RSS-VHP will push for a central law allowing the handing over of Ayodhya land to the Ramjanmabhoomi trust.

Another factor that appears to rule out an immediate shuffle is that the Prime Minister and his deputy are reluctant to wade into the Trinamul Congress’ factional wrangling. Vajpayee wished to induct Mamata during the last shuffle, but Advani and BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu wanted her rival Sudip Bandhopadhyay admitted as well. An angry Mamata would have none of that and as a result neither MP was inducted.

The incident left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouths and BJP sources say its top leaders are wary of a repeat.

The BJP is also wary that while the shuffle is being projected as a minor expansion to induct Mamata, it could bring differences within the party to the fore.

There are rumours afoot that Vajpayee wishes to make human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi the finance minister with Jaswant Singh getting back the foreign ministry and Yashwant Sinha being despatched to Jharkhand to look after party affairs.

Sources say the rationale behind this move is to induct Joshi in the Cabinet committee on security affairs which presently boasts of Singh, Sinha, Advani and George Fernandes. This would strengthen Vajpayee’s hands since Joshi is considered close to the Prime Minister.

The shuffle may never occur since the BJP is believed to be keen on a February parliamentary election despite saying at its recent chintan baithak that it would not bring the poll forward by “even one day” before the scheduled September 2004 date.

Despite this, it is no secret that urban development minister Ananth Kumar, who has managed to survive every shuffle, has been asked to put in his papers after being made the Karnataka BJP chief.

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