The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Wrong numbers connect Shourie to communications

New Delhi, Jan. 30: Arun Shourie is being projected as the “real winner” and the “super minister” in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s reconstituted ministry because not only did he manage to retain the disinvestment ministry — in the face of the RSS’ opposition — he also got communications and information technology.

The ministry was under the charge of Pramod Mahajan, sent to the party in yesterday’s shuffle.

But BJP observers believe certain factors need to be deconstructed before definite inferences are drawn. They maintain there was hectic jockeying before Shourie bagged his new portfolios.

When the Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani indicated to Shourie that disinvestment would be made part of the finance ministry and he would get full charge of commerce and industry — which he looked after in addition to disinvestment in Murasoli Maran’s absence — he reportedly threatened to resign.

After the decision on the sale of oil majors HPCL and BPCL, the government wanted to call a halt to its divestment programme — at least in what promises to be the run-up to the general elections.

The Prime Minister and the deputy Prime Minister felt that in the period before the polls, the reforms agenda should be calibrated to give an impression that the government was not “anti-people” and “pro-big business” — a charge even the Sangh parivar levelled periodically.

In effect then, although much needs to be divested, for the time being, the portfolio had become virtually meaningless. Finance minister Jaswant Singh realised the government’s political imperative and reportedly declined to integrate disinvestment with the finance ministry.

But keen not to be seen as doing a volte-face on reforms by annoying or minimising the importance of the government’s best-known public face on reforms, Vajpayee and Advani decided disinvestment would remain as a separate ministry — at least on paper.

Shourie became an inadvertent beneficiary of the war between cellular operators and limited mobility service providers when it was found that Arun Jaitley, the original choice for the ministry, appeared for Airtel in an income-tax case. Jaitley, a practising lawyer, was then not in the government. The telecom battle ultimately brought about the downfall of Mahajan.

Earlier, Sushma Swaraj also declined the portfolio, saying she did not wish to follow in Mahajan’s footstep.

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