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Rudy sends not-in-cabinet text, switches off

New Delhi, May 25: A terse text message from Rajiv Pratap Rudy to some journalists this afternoon set alarm bells ringing among his peers and immediate seniors in the BJP.

The message said: “Thank u I am not in cabinet will look after party work rudy.”

His three cellphone numbers were promptly switched off. Nobody answered his landline.

Rudy, who defeated Lalu Prasad’s wife Rabri Devi from Bihar’s Chhapra, was civil aviation minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government. A Rajput by caste and regarded as close to BJP president Rajnath Singh, Rudy, a trained pilot, was a running favourite as a probable in Narendra Modi’s cabinet.

“It was assumed that Rudy would walk in effortlessly,” a BJP source said.

This morning, he was reportedly told by Rajnath that he would continue in the BJP as a general secretary and focus on Bihar, which the party thinks could hurtle into a mid-term election.

Last week, when a delegation of the BJP’s newly elected MPs from Karnataka called on Modi at Gujarat Bhavan, his message to them was they would have to work hard to rebuild the party and keep the workers’ “batteries recharged” because the “Modi wave could peter out in three months”.

In the delegation was sixth-time South Bangalore MP Ananth Kumar. Sources said Ananth, urban development minister in the Vajpayee government, too, might be grounded in the party.

D.V. Sadananda Gowda, a former chief minister, is the likeliest cabinet inductee from Karnataka. Gowda is a Vokkaliga by caste. To placate the other powerful community of the state, the Lingayats, Modi could have a junior minister from the caste.

B.S. Yeddyurappa, another former chief minister, also won the election. But since he is not quite out of a legal tangle arising from alleged dubious land deals, Modi “discreetly” communicated to Yeddyurappa that to retain his “honour” as well as that of the new government, it was better if he ruled himself out as a prospective minister.

Yeddyurappa did just that in a letter to Modi that was made available to the media.

Yet another senior, who was fancied as a sure-fire inductee but faces uncertainty, is M. Venkaiah Naidu. Naidu was rural development minister in the Vajpayee dispensation. Sources said Modi told him he would be used in another capacity.

Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, for long the BJP’s “Muslim face” with Shahnawaz Hussain, was reportedly unsure of making the grade that seemed a foregone conclusion last week. Hussain lost the election from Bhagalpur. It appears his defeat has partly cleared the way for Naqvi’s ministership, although he is a Rajya Sabha MP.

Sources said the “minority quota” toss-up was between Naqvi and Najma Heptullah, also a Rajya Sabha member. Although Naqvi has put in far longer years in the BJP than Najma, a former Congress leader, a source said she had “gender and stature” on her side. Najma is a former Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson.

The BJP’s likely faces from Bihar are Ravi Shankar Prasad and Radha Mohan Singh, who won from Motihar. Prasad is expected to be in the cabinet and Singh will probably be a junior minister.

Bihar’s slot will be taken up by two more expected inductions: those of LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan (cabinet rank) and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party’s Upendra Kushwaha (junior minister). Both helm parties that had a pre-poll alliance with the BJP.

As “consultations” and “discussions” continued for all of today, sources said a list of ministerial nominees was expected to reach Rashtrapati Bhavan tomorrow morning. It is understood that the suspense over Rajnath’s plans dissipated this morning after he “gave away his mind” and said he would join the government.

Telugu Desam Party chief N. Chandrababu Naidu called on Modi today. Sources said he indicated that he would like a cabinet berth and also that of a junior minister for his party.

The BJP has also lined up two of its own for these slots: Telangana MP Bandaru Dattatreya (who was also in Vajpayee’s government) and Gokaraju Ganga Raju, MP from Narsapura. Raju is believed to be a patron of the VHP in coastal Andhra, a factor that earned for him a “strong” commendation from the RSS that otherwise claimed it was “hands off” government formation.

Jual Oram from Odisha, Kalraj Mishra from Uttar Pradesh and Rao Inderjit from Haryana are among the probables for cabinet berths.