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Berth-less Mamata leaves BJP breathless

New Delhi, Sept. 9: BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu yesterday justified Mamata Banerjee’s induction into the cabinet without a ministry as the “Prime Minister’s prerogative” and Gingee Ramachandran’s reinstatement as a “healthy precedent”, but his party does not share the view.

Two popular Hindi sayings quoted by a BJP functionary summed up the mood at the 11 Ashoka Road office: “Sar mundate hi olay pade” (hailstones rained as soon as the head was shaved off) and “Aa bail mujhe maar” (waving a red rag at the bull). The subtext was that though Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee hoped to strengthen his hands after the shuffle and buy peace with allies, his effort could boomerang.

An embarrassed BJP wondered why Vajpayee re-inducted Mamata if their 50-minute meeting on Sunday night was inconclusive. “He could have left it for a later date till the portfolio issue was sorted out. What was the tearing hurry' This way it’s worse because she would smart under the humiliation of being ministry-less,” said a source.

Mamata, who lunched with defence minister George Fernandes today, however, said she did not think she was going back empty-handed. “There is no empty hand or full hand. People in Bengal know my work.” Asked how long she would wait, she said: “There is no time frame.”

Within the BJP, there is an uneasy feeling that the party, which has all along stressed on the dharma (morality) of coalition, is not practising it. “If the idea was to make the NDA stronger by keeping Trinamul and the MDMK happy, it may have the opposite effect. More allies may have second thoughts about us,” a source said.

If Mamata was one worry, the news that Ramachandran might be questioned by the CBI in the cash-for-transfer case was another. “It would have been better to have re-inducted him after he was through with the questioning and given a proper clean chit,” said a source.

The BJP fears that Ramachandran’s return would suggest that the government is not serious about fighting corruption despite its “surajya” (clean governance) slogan. This is “bad news” before polls. The party is also afraid the Opposition will make it a big issue in the winter session just as it had done when Fernandes returned after Tehelka.

 

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