The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Vajpayee shuffles for poll battle

New Delhi, Jan. 29: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has put together an election Cabinet, strengthening areas which were weak and marginalising or dropping “non-performers” as well as those who could be a potential embarrassment to his government.

Hinting as much, Vajpayee told reporters that the changes in the BJP and the government were “aimed at strengthening the party, increasing its popularity and also people’s confidence”.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu said: “Every change has kept in view the next round of elections and the utility of the persons who were brought back from the government to the party and vice versa.”

By far the most important move by Vajpayee, who acted in concert with his deputy, L.K. Advani, was sending the high-profile Pramod Mahajan to the party.

Asked what the message of today’s shuffle was, Mahajan said: “The message is me.”

Other significant decisions included the reward of communications and infotech portfolios (with Mahajan earlier) to Arun Shourie, who continues to hold disinvestment, induction of Arun Jaitley as law and justice, commerce and industry minister and moving Sushma Swaraj from information and broadcasting to health, which “non-performer” Shatrughan Sinha has lost. She also takes charge of parliamentary affairs, so far held by Mahajan.

Sinha has been given shipping. His predecessor Ved Prakash Goyal moves to the party and is likely to be made its treasurer, a post he held for several years winning fame for fund management ability during elections.

That this is an election Cabinet is signalled by Vajpayee’s correction of caste imbalances. He has given representation to the Bhumihars in Bihar (C.P Thakur), Ambedkarites (Sangh Priya Gautam), OBCs (Chattrapal Singh), Patels (Bhavnaben Chikalia), Meenas in Rajasthan (Jaskaur Meena) and tribals in Chhattisgarh (Dilip Singh Judev).

Judev is also an anti-conversion campaigner who has been bringing Christian tribals into the Hindu fold through “shuddhikaran” (purification).

Evidence of Vajpayee and Advani working in tandem is apparent in the quiet shifting of the CBI — as part of the department of personnel, public grievances and pensions — from the Prime Minister’s Office to the deputy Prime Minister, who has been keen on having it under him for some time. The transfer took place with minister of state Vasundhara Raje resigning to take full-time charge of the party in Rajasthan.

The changes accompany an argument offered within the BJP for an early election. While some voices favour an October poll along with Assembly elections in four Hindi-speaking states, others prefer early 2004 before the budget.

The votaries of the first line believe that since the BJP is “reasonably well-placed” to cash in on the “anti-incumbency” sentiment in Congress-ruled Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi, it should press home the advantage by holding simultaneous Lok Sabha polls. The others feel the party should test the waters before taking the plunge.

The buzz is that the next budget — speculation suggests it will be “populist” — could be this government’s last such endeavour before the election.

BJP sources said Mahajan was sent to the party for various reasons, the key among them being the cellular phone versus limited mobility service battle in which he was seen to be taking sides. The leadership felt it necessary to act before the controversy snowballed, the sources added. Mahajan reportedly declined the offer of an alternative ministry.

At the same time, there was recognition of his organisational expertise and understanding of grassroots politics that the BJP could use. Even when he was in government, Mahajan worked in Rajasthan and picked up credit for the party winning the three recent byelections.

BJP sources explained Jaitley’s shift by claiming that his presence in the law ministry, which he has manned earlier, is crucial with the Ayodhya issue hotting up again. Jaitley’s predecessor K. Jana Krishnamurthi was regarded as a “text-book” minister who preferred to “play it safe”. But with sensitive matters like exploring the possibility of handing over a portion of the disputed land in Ayodhya to the VHP likely to arise, the Prime Minister felt Jaitley is best suited for the job since he combines legal understanding with an appreciation of realpolitik.

Although there was pressure from the RSS to pluck Shourie out of disinvestment, the Prime Minister held his ground. In a quid pro quo, Ram Naik, a Sangh favourite, keeps petroleum.



Arun Shourie

disinvestment, communications and IT. Loses northeastern affairs
Arun Jaitley law and commerce and industry
C.P. Thakur northeastern affairs and small scale industries
Sushma Swaraj health and family welfare, and parliamentary affairs
Shatrughan Sinha shipping
Karia Munda coal. Earlier MOS agro-processing and rural industries
Sangh Priya Gautam MOS with independent charge of agro and rural industries
Ravi Shankar Prasad MOS with independent charge of I&B. Loses coal
Vinod Khanna MOS in the external affairs ministry. Earlier MOS tourism and culture
Chattarpal Singh MOS chemical and fertiliser
Dilip Singh Judev MOS environment and forest
Dilip Gandhi MOS shipping

Bhavnaben Chikalia
MOS parliamentary affairs, tourism and culture
Jas Kaur Meena MOS HRD.

Tapan Sikdar

MOS smallscale industries and Northeast development.
Earlier MOS in chemical and fertiliser

Subhash Maharia

MOS consumer affairs, food and public distribution

Vidya Sagar Rao

MOS commerce and industry

Satyabrata Mukherjee

MOS atomic energy, space, statistics and programme implementation and planning

Sanjay Paswan

MOS social justice and empowerment


MOS communication and IT

Ashok Pradhan


U.V. Krishnam Raju

MOS rural development

Vallabhbhai Kathiria

MOS health and family welfare

Haren Pathak

MOS home

O. Rajagopal

MOS defence

Vijay Goel

MOS parliamentary affairs and labour. Earlier with PMO

Santosh Gangwar

MOS petroleum
A.B. Vajpayee sheds personnel department, under which CBI comes, to home ministry headed by L.K. Advani




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