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Modi gates shut to ministry lobbyists

- One-man show but some campaign against ‘outsiders’

New Delhi, May 22: Narendra Modi has made it clear that lobbyists, whether from within the BJP or outside, will be unwelcome while he puts together his council of ministers before taking the oath on May 26.

BJP sources said the gates of New Delhi’s Gujarat Bhavan, where the Prime Minister-designate is camping, were shut to everyone apart from the party leaders and government officials Modi had summoned for meetings.

When a couple of Uttar Pradesh MPs, flushed with their poll victories, ambled towards the Bhavan earlier this week, they were told by the security guards they would not be allowed past the gate without an appointment. When they sought one, there was no response.

Whenever the BJP had come to power in the past, the process of ministry formation used to be a pretty public affair with favour-seekers and members of pressure groups flitting in and out of the decision-making hubs.

The BJP headquarters on Ashoka Road wasn’t the only place where the names would be finalised — the homes of senior leaders too doubled as selection centres.

This time, Modi has signalled from day one that he alone would select the ministers, and that his colleagues would at best be available for “suggestions and consultations”.

It is no use currying favour with any other senior leader, either, a party source said. “Even those at the top, who had fancied they would walk into the core group of ministers, are spending sleepless nights. They have become nervous and irritable.”

With rumours swirling about the possible induction of “talented technocrats” and “outsiders” into Modi’s ministerial team, the BJP’s conservatives have mounted a campaign against the prospective nominees, one of whom is said to be Arun Shourie.

Shourie, a World Bank economist turned newspaper editor, author and columnist, was the minister for divestment as well as for information technology and communications in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government.

Soon after the BJP was routed in the 2009 general election, Shourie had lambasted senior leaders with the sobriquets “Humpty Dumpty” and “Alice in Blunderland”, and dared the party to expel him. It didn’t but kept him out of party panels, and Shourie drifted apart from the BJP.

The immediate provocation for the current campaign against Shourie is an interview he gave to a news channel a couple of days ago. He said he agreed with economist Jagdish Bhagwati that Modi must retain RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, who was a “professional trying his best”.

Shourie’s remarks irritated a section of the BJP that recalled that Murli Manohar Joshi had submitted a calling-attention motion in Parliament asking how Rajan, a “foreigner”, could be appointed when there were “enough Indians to run the RBI”.

Most of Joshi’s party colleagues, though, had not endorsed his proposal and he didn’t pursue it.

But once word was out that a BJP leader had questioned his nationality, Rajan addressed the media in Mumbai and said he had always been an Indian citizen, held an Indian passport, and had never applied for the citizenship of another country. He said he held a green card but it was “simply” a work permit he needed in a foreign country.

The controversy over Shourie’s comments on Rajan, neutral BJP sources felt, was just a “ruse” to stymie Shourie’s possible induction.

As divestment minister, Shourie had overseen the sale of PSU majors like Maruti, VSNL and Hindustan Zinc and earned praise from Vajpayee.

However, after the BJP lost the 2004 elections, some of the party’s chintan baithaks (introspection sessions) identified Shourie’s “pro-reformist” economic outlook as one of the reasons for the defeat.

The current buzz against “outsiders” gained strength after Shourie called on BJP president Rajnath Singh this week. After the BJP’s 2009 debacle, Shourie had been particularly withering about Rajnath and Arun Jaitley in his media interviews. His meeting with Rajnath was seen as part of a “larger peace mission”.

Sources said Shourie wasn’t the only “outsider” who could possibly figure on Modi’s radar. Among the others is former Shiv Sena MP Suresh Prabhu, who was power minister in Vajpayee’s government and, like Shourie, was one of the former Prime Minister’s favourites.

Prabhu has been working on a doctorate on climate change from Berlin’s Frei University and says he is “deeply focused on striking a balance between development and environment”. Prabhu is said to have been in touch with Modi and his core team.

When Shourie was asked to hazard guesses on who Modi might include in his council of ministers, he said: “No one but Modi knows that and he will not fail to surprise.”