Sept. 7: Mamata Banerjee reached Delhi tonight after the Prime Minister called her for a possible cabinet expansion tomorrow.
The Trinamul Congress leader met Vajpayee for 50 minutes and is learnt to have expressed reservations about coal, the portfolio for which she was sounded.
Mamata is said to be keen on urban development or surface transport, both held by the BJP whose top leadership is averse to let go of either. The toss-up for Mamata will be coal or rural development, which are also held by the BJP.
The sources said a decision on her portfolio would be taken after Vajpayee holds another round of meetings with deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, finance minister Jaswant Singh and BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu.
Mamata was summoned by Vajpayee today after which she left Calcutta for the capital, unlike last time when she postponed her trip and eventually cancelled it after high drama that stretched through the night.
“The Prime Minister rang me up twice, last night and this morning. NDA convener and defence minister George Fernandes, too, talked to me over phone today,” Mamata said in Calcutta. “I am part of the NDA. I am bound to respond to the Prime Minister’s call.”
The sources said apart from Mamata, the only other person likely to be taken in was former minister of state for finance and MDMK MP Gingee Ramachandran, who had resigned after his personal secretary was caught taking a bribe.
However, in a later development, it is learnt that coalition managers are not keen on reinducting Ramachandran.
Although Ramachandran was given a clean chit by the CBI, the government reportedly asked MDMK leader Vaiko to suggest an alternative name. Pollachi MP C. Krishnan’s name is being mentioned as a contender, but Vaiko is believed to be keen on Ramachandran’s return.
If the problem is sorted out, the swearing-in is expected to take place at 1 pm tomorrow.
Until last night, veteran Delhi BJP leader V.K. Malhotra was tipped to get the urban development portfolio which was vacated by Ananth Kumar after he became the Karnataka party president.
But BJP sources ruled out the possibility, saying the Prime Minister wanted this round of the shuffle to be “smooth and low key” and without causing “major upsets”.
It appears that minister of state for railway Bandaru Dattatreya may be given independent charge of urban development or a full-fledged cabinet rank. The ministry is now being looked after by surface transport minister B.C. Khanduri.
Though Mamata is said to be keen on surface transport, Khanduri is perceived as one of the more effective ministers in the government and had overseen the Golden Quadrilateral super-highway connectivity project — touted as one of the big achievements of the NDA government— to the “satisfaction” of both Vajpayee and Advani.
In Calcutta, minutes after an upbeat Mamata left for Delhi, sulking party MP from Calcutta northwest Sudip Bandopadhyay said he would not attend the swearing-in.
“I know that Mamata is going to be sworn in tomorrow but I am not in a mood to attend the programme. Why should I go this time'” he asked, adding that his name along with that of Mamata was sent to the President last time. “But Mamata scuttled the move even though the Prime Minister himself had spoken to me regarding my induction.”
Asked if Ajit Panja, with whom she had brokered peace recently, would be sworn in along with her, Mamata said: “You better ask this question to the Prime Minister.”
That both Bandopadhyay and Panja are being left out was confirmed by Calcutta mayor Subrata Mukherjee. “As far as I know, Mamata alone is being sworn in this time,” he added.