The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal ayes Mamata, not Kalyan
- Shuffle to ease load on ‘overburdened’ ministers

New Delhi, May 18: Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s long wait for a Union Cabinet berth may end soon. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today indicated that Mamata might make a comeback in the expansion/shake-up he is going to effect in his council of ministers.

Talking to reporters at Manali at the end of his six-day sojourn in the hill town, Vajpayee said he will undertake the exercise on an “auspicious” day, but did not give a date. Speculation is rife that he will effect the changes very soon, before he leaves for a week-long tour of Europe on May 27.

Vajpayee also put to rest rumours about the return of former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh to the BJP and his possible induction into the Cabinet with a curt “no”.

Singh had floated the Rashtriya Kranti Dal after a scathing attack on the Prime Minister and his style of politics. Two BJP parliamentarians and deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani’s loyalists had approached Singh recently and reportedly discussed his possible return.

Sources said Mamata is likely to get the health portfolio held by Sushma Swaraj, who is also in charge of parliamentary affairs. Earlier, it was thought that she might be given rural development, vacated by Shanta Kumar after the BJP was crushed in Himachal Pradesh. But a section in the BJP does not want the high-profile portfolio to go to allies.

The virtual rout of Trinamul in the just-concluded Bengal panchayat elections had sparked speculation that the BJP might have a rethink on rehabilitating Mamata. But NDA sources said the BJP leadership fears that since the Trinamul-BJP alliance did not work, Mamata might be tempted to experiment with the Congress again and the Prime Minister does not want that.

Vajpayee also said there will be some new faces in his ministry and spoke of “lightening” the burden of some of the ministers. “Some new ministers will be added. Some of the ministers are overburdened. Their burden will be lightened,” he said. Asked whether Mamata will be re-inducted, he said: “The possibility is there.”

However, he parried similar questions on National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, who, too, is waiting in the wings for a slot in the Union Cabinet.

Besides Sushma, there are several others holding multiple ministries. Arun Jaitley has law, justice, company affairs and commerce while Arun Shourie holds telecommunications and information technology besides his original ministry of disinvestment.

There are reports of an effort to rehabilitate Shanta Kumar as he was not solely responsible for the Himachal rout, but Vajpayee did not give any such indication.

Anant Kumar, who holds urban development, was given additional charge of rural development when Shanta Kumar quit.

Asked if anyone from Himachal Pradesh would be taken into his ministry, Vajpayee said: “I will not reveal everything right now.”

Sources said since Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Mizoram are going to polls this November, the BJP might seek to induct ministers from these states, especially Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. There are already four ministers from Delhi — Sushma, Sahib Singh Verma, Jagmohan and Vijay Goel — in the Vajpayee ministry and, hence, a new face from the capital is unlikely.

BJP president Venkaiah Naidu also evaded a direct reply when asked about the possibility of Kalyan Singh’s return to the party. “It will not be proper to comment on this matter unless there is anything concrete,” he said in Lucknow. He admitted that some “well wishers” did meet Singh recently, but said “the matter remains inconclusive”.

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