The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM eyes image balm on Soren scar

New Delhi, July 25: In the backwash of the Sibu Soren controversy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may take the opportunity of an expected cabinet shuffle to clean up his government’s image.

Having been badly scalded by the Opposition fire around Soren, who has had to resign as coal minister, the Prime Minister wants to give the BJP as little room as he can to mount a similar offensive, at least where his party, the Congress, is concerned.

Sources said Singh was not in favour of Jagdish Tytler’s inclusion in the cabinet, given his alleged involvement in the 1984 violence against Sikhs. The Opposition National Democratic Alliance had walked out when his name was read out by Singh while introducing his council of ministers in the House. The Akali Dal had threatened to do a George Fernandes on Tytler, the minister of state for non-resident affairs, by boycotting him.

Attacks on Singh’s government over “tainted ministers” will continue. A 24-member NDA delegation, headed by the leader of Opposition, L.K. Advani, met President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam this evening to use his “moral authority” to advise the Prime Minister to drop these ministers.

“We stressed (to the President) that you are the constitutional head, you have a moral position. A President takes oath to protect the Constitution and by virtue of that oath, you have the moral authority,” Advani said.

In the context of this offensive, Singh feels his government could do with one less, the sources said.

About the others in the BJP’s sight, like Laloo Prasad Yadav, the Prime Minister can do precious little.

When the first cabinet was drawn up, Singh was not on “top of the situation” and had to give in to the pulls and pressures of the Congress and other alliance constituents.

The sources added that this time he is keen the exercise leading up to a cabinet shuffle, which may be combined with expansion, should involve only him and Sonia Gandhi “as far as possible” to salvage the “Soren-scarred” image of his government.

Stephen Marandi, also a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MP, may be inducted in place of Soren. The sources said though Soren’s replacement was a decision his party would have to take, Marandi’s name could become a talking point because of a whisper campaign started by the BJP, alleging that Sonia favoured him because he is a Christian.

Singh, the sources said, does not want Satish Sharma, a confidant of the Nehru-Gandhi family, to enter the government. Sharma was brought into the Rajya Sabha amid speculation that he would get the petroleum portfolio from the incumbent, Mani Shankar Aiyar.

Sharma had held petroleum earlier but got entangled in a controversy over disbursement of discretionary quotas for petrol pumps and gas agencies. Though Sharma was exonerated later in a Supreme Court case, the BJP had picked it up as an instance of Congress corruption.

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