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Akhilesh shuffles and sacks on session-eve

Lucknow, June 18: Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav sacked one minister last night and downgraded several in a budget session-eve revamp that the Opposition said was just an attempt to create a “smokescreen” following the recent spurt in rapes and murders across Uttar Pradesh.

Nine of the 11 whose portfolios were shuffled were cabinet ministers.

The overhaul, on the eve of the Assembly session beginning tomorrow, came days ahead of the budget the chief minister is scheduled to present on June 20, and a little over a month after the BJP swept the general election, winning 71 of the state’s 80 seats.

Sources said the ruling Samajwadi Party needed to strengthen the administration as it gears for bypolls to 13 Assembly seats that fell vacant after the sitting BJP MLAs in these constituencies chose to contest the general election.

The minister sacked in last night’s shuffle was Pawan Pandey, who had been in charge of entertainment tax. Samajwadi sources said Pawan, who defeated BJP veteran Lallu Singh in Ayodhya in the 2012 state elections, had recently been reprimanded by party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav for the party’s poor showing at Faizabad.

Key among those who were downgraded were Rajendra Chowdhary, Ram Govind Chaudhary, Balram Yadav and Manoj Pandey. Balram was shifted from panchayati raj to prisons; Samajwadi spokesperson Chowdhary, who held charge of prisons, was downsized to political pensions, Chaudhary was stripped of child development, nutrition and several other portfolios and asked to look after basic education, and Manoj Pandey, who looked after agriculture, was handed science and technology. Akhilesh, who already holds finance, would look after agriculture too.

Another minister whose portfolio was changed was Vijay Kumar Mishra. The minister, who handled non-conventional energy resources, will now look after religious affairs.

BJP spokesperson Vijay Bahadur Pathak said the shuffle appeared to be a “shift of rooms and tables of ministers to create a smokescreen”. BSP state chief S.P. Maurya called the revamp “a face-saving exercise”.

The month-long budget session, which would start at a time the monsoon session is usually on, is expected to be stormy. Samajwadi sources said the Opposition was bound to launch an orchestrated attack over the spurt in crime, especially the Badaun gang rape of two Dalit girls who were found hanging from a tree.

The entire Opposition boycotted an all-party meet called by the chief minister this afternoon.