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Cabinet ceiling rethink

New Delhi, Oct. 11: The NDA government’s first major initiative in electoral reforms could be blunted if the compulsions of realpolitik take over.

A hint to this effect was given by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who said the cap of 10 per cent on the size of ministries in the Centre and the states could be increased to 15 per cent if the NDA allies and Opposition agree.

The 97th Constitution amendment bill, introduced in Parliament’s monsoon session, proposed the 10 per cent cap on the size of ministries in proportion to the strength of both Houses of Parliament as well as the legislative assemblies and councils, in states with a bi-cameral chamber like Uttar Pradesh.

Speaking at a function at the BJP headquarters to commemorate the birth centenary of Jai Prakash Narayan, Advani said the 10 per cent ceiling is “non-feasible”. He added that the proposal to increase it is in the “thinking-aloud stage” and a decision would be taken in consultation with allies and the Opposition. If there is a consensus, the first bill, referred to a standing committee after its introduction, would be jettisoned and a new one brought in its place.

Advani, whose speech focused largely on electoral reforms, made it clear that the proposed amendment is “only the first step”. The second step would be to try and evolve a fresh consensus on downsizing ministries to the 10-per cent figure.

BJP sources who heard the speech were sceptical of the latter half of his assurance. They said the revision of the original ceiling was prompted by imperatives of the “coalition era” and cited Uttar Pradesh as the prime example. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s 98-strong cabinet is nearly 20 per cent in excess of the figure permitted by the bill. At the Centre, Atal Bihari Vajpayee has just about managed to adhere to it.

Envisaging a scenario in the next Lok Sabha in which the BJP manages to emerge as the single-largest party but with reduced numbers, a source said: “If we have to form the government, we may have to make far more compromises than in the past. If we have to include single-member parties and smaller splinter groups, the 10-per cent cap can prove to be a hurdle.”

But Advani couched his rationale in different terms and said population growth necessitated the generation of greater resources and more development work meant creating more ministries.

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