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Singh lends steel fist to strikeback
Singh calls on CPM veteran Harkishen Singh Surjeet at a hospital in Noida on Saturday. (PTI)

New Delhi, May 14: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was initially hesitant about ordering inquiries into acts of omission and commission by the NDA, has shed his reluctance, sources close to him said.

The sources said the announcement of a CBI probe into defence deals struck when George Fernandes was minister and an inquiry into the sale of two Centaur hotels by the former disinvestment ministry under Arun Shourie had Singh’s unequivocal go-ahead.

The initial perception was that the PMO was not keen on the drive and that it was being spearheaded by the ruling alliance’s political leadership and the Left allies.

The sources said that when he took over, Singh was eager to evolve consensus on all major policies. “The process obviously took the BJP into account because it won a large number of seats (in the Lok Sabha) and had a big presence in states like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat. Any move that smacked of vendetta could have thwarted the consensual process,” said a source.

“But the BJP did not reciprocate even in small measure. It boycotted or stalled session after session. It took the unprecedented step of passing a resolution describing Singh as the weakest Prime Minister India has had. And this on the eve of visits by important foreign dignitaries,” the source added.

Singh was also upset because Shourie sought to give the impression that the Prime Minister’s Office would “protect” him, the sources said.

Shourie had told a media conference that he was ready for an “open probe” and that “Singh (who the former minister claimed has known him for over 30 years), Montek Singh Ahluwalia (the Planning Commission deputy chairman), Ishar (Montek’s wife) and Sanjaya Baru (Singh’s media adviser)” would vouch for his “integrity and probity”.

“The suggestion enraged the Prime Minister because it was a mischievous one designed to create the impression that there were divisions in the UPA on the Centaur probe,” said one of the sources.

On the expected cabinet shuffle, the sources said it is unclear if it would be an effort to “fill in the blanks” or a larger exercise that could see the exit of some Congress veterans.

But the regulation speculation is already doing the rounds in the capital. Some of the changes that are being talked about include removal of human resource development minister Arjun Singh, shifting of home minister Shivraj Patil to planning and programme implementation and Dayanidhi Maran from communications to energy and power.

Information and broadcasting minister S. Jaipal Reddy might be asked to return to the Congress and Jyotiraditya Scindia could take his place.

Some MPs from Tamil Nadu are trying to get P. Chidambaram shifted. If at all the transfer takes place, Chidambaram could be offered home and C. Rangarajan, Singh’s chief economic adviser, finance.

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