The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal-Advani date sparks shuffle talk

New Delhi, June 28: With Atal Bihari Vajpayee contemplating another reshuffle in the second week of July, ministers and ministerial hopefuls are keeping their fingers crossed.

Speculation about the shuffle mounted after the Prime Minister had a one-to-one meeting with his deputy, .K. Advani, today.

NDA sources said the reshuffle will be minor. Vajpayee may be looking for a candidate for the urban development ministry after Ananth Kumar was appointed Karnataka BJP chief on Thursday. He would also need a minister of state for railway as Bandaru Dattatreya is taking over as chief of the Andhra Pradesh BJP.

Delhi MP Vijay Goel, currently minister of state for labour, is angling for Dattatreya’s portfolio, while C.P. Thakur, minister in charge of northeastern states and a Bhumihar leader from Bihar, is lobbying for a weightier ministry.

Another ministerial probable is Mamata Banerjee, who refused to join the Cabinet during the May 24 shuffle protesting Advani’s attempt to induct Trinamul Congress rival Sudip Bandopadhyay. Vajpayee had then said: “There will be another reshuffle soon.”

Sources said the Prime Minister is unlikely to touch senior leaders, but there is speculation in some quarters that M. Venkaiah Naidu may be inducted into the Cabinet by an angry Vajpayee, still smarting under the vikas purush-lauh purush controversy. But finding a replacement for Naidu as BJP chief will not be easy.

There is talk that external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha may be drafted for party work in his home state of Jharkhand where the BJP is on a decline. But his followers rule this out since he is not a tribal.

If Sinha, who does not have a mass base, is dropped, finance minister Jaswant Singh will regain his old portfolio, with human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi assuming charge of the finance ministry.

There is no confirmation of these changes, but the sources said the Karnataka BJP is pressuring the Prime Minister to induct Janata Dal (United) leader Ramakrishna Hegde into the Cabinet to bolster its support among Lingayats. Hegde is a Brahmin, but enjoys considerable support among the Lingayats.

The hitch is that Hegde is not a member of either House. But some leaders say Hegde, who would need to become an MP within six months of becoming a minister, would not even need to contest an election if Lok Sabha polls are advanced to February.

The Karnataka unit of the party is worried over a possible tie-up between senior BJP MP Rajashekhara Murthy, a Lingayat, and Janata Dal (Secular) leader H.D. Deve Gowda, a Vokkaliga. A Lingayat-Vokkaliga alliance could prove fatal for the party.

Murthy recently organised a meeting between leaders of Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) and Hegde’s party to work out the modalities for a merger between the outfits. Even though this is anti-party, the BJP has not taken any action against Murthy.

Labour minister Sahib Singh Verma and the BJP leader in the Lok Sabha, V.K. Malhotra, are lobbying for the urban development ministry to be vacated by Ananth Kumar.

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