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Kidnap taint on Akhilesh team

- Minister sacked months ago returns in first govt expansion

Lucknow, Feb. 7: A minister sacked four months back for alleged involvement in a doctor’s abduction was among 12 new faces inducted into Akhilesh Yadav’s cabinet today, bringing under a shadow his first ministry expansion since becoming chief minister almost a year ago.

Vinod Pandit Singh’s entry struck at the root of Akhilesh’s efforts to project himself as a leader intolerant of corruption and crime, an impression that had gained ground when he had persuaded his party to deny Ghaziabad “don” D.P. Yadav a ticket last year.

Pandit, then a minister of state for revenue and rehabilitation, was accused of kidnapping Gonda chief medical officer Dr S.P. Singh in October but, according to Samajwadi sources, was given a clean chit in an internal probe conducted by a senior bureaucrat two months ago.

The induction of Pandit, 42, is part of a generational shift Akhilesh sought to bring in his ministry by getting on board young leaders who the Samajwadis hope will “galvanise the grassroots organisation” ahead of next year’s general elections.

A least 10 of the 12 ministers sworn in today are below 45.

Rivals didn’t quite see it that way, though. BJP national president Lakhsmikant Bajpayee said Pandit’s return amounted to “the medicine being worse than the disease”.

The Congress said the move had punctured the chief ministers image.

“The bubble around the new Samajwadi dream has got deflated now,” said party MLA Akhilesh Singh.

Sources close to chief minister Akhilesh said the cabinet expansion — which took the size of his ministry to 58 — was also meant to appease young legislators who were feeling left out.

Of the 46 ministers earlier, at least 30, or 65 per cent, were 60 or older.

Now, Akhilesh will have 26 ministers below 45, which means they will account for over 44 per cent of the expanded ministry.

The increased size is close to the 60 ministers allowed under norms that cap the number at 15 per cent of an Assembly’s strength, in this case 403.

The youngest of those inducted today was Pawan Pandey, a 28-year-old student leader who became a talking point after winning from BJP bastion Ayodhya in the state elections last year.