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New Delhi, Oct. 11 
A.B. Vajpayee, appointed Prime Minister by the President today, is likely to induct a jumbo 55-member council of ministers on Wednesday morning.

The key portfolios of finance, home, external affairs and defence are expected to be retained by the incumbent ministers, BJP sources said. They added that the berths would be shared almost evenly between the BJP and its partners as the allies have improved their tally.

However, the BJP?s biggest ally, the Telugu Desam Party, has declined to join the government. The Prime Minister would nonetheless keep a few key ministries with himself and use these as a latter-day bait for the Telugu Desam as Naidu is believed to be under intense pressure from his MPs to join the government, the BJP sources said.

The exercise for forming a two-tier council of ministers is being conducted by Vajpayee, home minister L.K. Advani and external affairs minister Jaswant Singh. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BJP hardliners were being kept at bay, although the hawks have already begun making noises, the sources said.

The hardliners are trying to pre-empt the Telugu Desam from re-claiming the Speaker?s post and are demanding that the slot be given to one of their nominees. ?It is an absolute necessity, and we have enough qualified and experienced people,? said a BJP leader.

This group is also striving to push through to the Cabinet a former Vishwa Hindu Parishad member who was associated with the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. The names of Uttar Pradesh MPs Swami Chinmayanand and Vinay Katiyar are being mentioned.

?We have to reassure our constituents that despite the coalition, we are committed to constructing the Ram temple,? a leader linked to the group said.

But the ?moderates? said they were confident that such demands would not be met. After the renewed and comfortable mandate, Vajpayee was less susceptible to the RSS? pulls and pressures, they added.

While Vajpayee kicked off consultation process through meetings with Mamata Banerjee and M. Karunanidhi yesterday, Advani and Singh were in touch with the leaders of other parties. The two will submit their inputs to the Prime Minister by tomorrow, after which he is expected to give final shape to his Cabinet.

Information minister Pramod Mahajan, who was actively involved in the process last time, has kept a low profile this time as he is busy trying to end the Maharashtra deadlock.

Sources said the DMK was likely to get the communications and surface transport ministries.

Asked about the main criterion for allocating portfolios, a B