The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Top guns’ meet signals cabinet shuffle

New Delhi, Sept. 6: The process of reconstituting the Union council of ministers yet again started this evening with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee holding consultations with his deputy, L.K. Advani, finance minister Jaswant Singh and BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu.

However, NDA convener George Fernandes was not included in the meeting, though BJP sources had it that the exercise would primarily concern the NDA and not their own party as much.

It is learnt that while the much-awaited reinduction of Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and the somewhat unexpected one of MDMK MP Gingee Ramachandran was “certain”, efforts were on by a section of the BJP to push for including Trinamul leader Sudip Bandhopadhyay also.

Last time Mamata’s return was thwarted because she stood her ground against Bandhopadhyay’s induction. But this time she had indicated she would not make it a “prestige issue”, claimed BJP sources. “She had realised that opposing it beyond a point could cost her a place in the cabinet,” maintained the sources.

There is speculation that Mamata may be given the coal ministry and incumbent Karia Munda brought back to the BJP organisation as a vice-president in place of Gopinath Munde who was recently made Maharashtra party chief.

Ramachandran, who was dropped in the last shuffle because his personal secretary was caught taking a bribe, is expected to come back armed with a clean chit from the CBI. His reinduction is being seen by the BJP as a sop to the MDMK, which was chafed by the Centre’s “indifference” to the incarceration of its leader, Vaiko, under the anti-terror legislation for a year. Ramachandran’s reinduction, they feel, is an effort to thus get the Tamil Nadu alliance in order.

It is learnt that Delhi BJP veteran V.K. Malhotra may get the urban development ministry, which fell vacant after Ananth Kumar was shifted to Karnataka as party chief. Urban development is now being looked after as an additional ministry by surface transport minister B.C. Khanduri. Chauba Singh from Manipur and Dhananjay Kumar of Karnataka, who had been dropped from the cabinet, are also likely to be reinducted.

Sources insisted that the shuffle would be a “limited” one and scotched rumours of a “large change” at the top. The rumours were fuelled mainly by former Reserve Bank of India governor Bimal Jalan’s nomination to the Rajya Sabha and speculation that he was being considered for the finance minister’s job.

The expansion, said sources, is likely to take place on September 8 or 9 as Advani and Naidu would be in Bangalore on September 10 for a BJP meeting. The “inauspicious” two-week pitrapaksh starts from September 11 and three days later Vajpayee will leave for an overseas trip.

The meeting also discussed the developments in Uttar Pradesh.

It noted that the split in the BSP and the merger of the breakaway group with the Samajwadi Party had strengthened Mulayam Singh Yadav’s hands.

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