| Hema Malini
New Delhi, Aug. 23: A high-level meeting convened by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today shortlisted the names of those who will be nominated to the Rajya Sabha when the term of eight sitting members ends on August 26.
The list will be formally ratified and released through the President’s office next week.
The NDA government has a special interest in the nominations as they mean an accretion of its strength in the upper House where the Opposition outnumbers the ruling coalition. This meant decisions like getting Parliament’s ratification to impose central rule on an “errant” state were getting thwarted.
Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, finance minister Jaswant Singh and BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu attended the meeting. There was no formal briefing, but sources said eight names were shortlisted.
The meeting also discussed the next cabinet expansion\ shuffle, intended primarily to accommodate some NDA allies.
The sources said Reserve Bank governor Bimal Jalan and actress Hema Malini were among those expected to be nominated. The other names mentioned were those of Isro chairman K. Kasturirangan, R.A. Mashalkar, director-general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, singer Bhupen Hazarika and former wrestler Dara Singh.
The sources added that the Telugu Desam Party, a key ally, has sought the nomination of Andhra film hero Akki Neni Nageshwara Rao and media baron Ramoji Rao. There was a BJP proposal that party veteran and former Gujarat governor S.S. Bhandari — now in limbo — be rehabilitated with a nomination.
BJP sources said a section of the party was keen to nominate only those with “certified saffron credentials”.Of the names in circulation, Hema Malini has campaigned for the BJP in elections while Mashalkar was a guest of honour at an RSS function two years ago.
In the upper House, the NDA has 114 members, six short of the 120-strong Opposition. With the eight new nominated members, the NDA expects its strength to go up to 122. This would equal that of the Opposition, which has two vacancies in its ranks.
However, it remains to be seen on whose side National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah is. If he is on the NDA’s side, the coalition will be one up on the Opposition. If not, the NDA will be one down.
The discussion on the cabinet revamp is likely to resume once Vajpayee and Advani return from the Inter-State Council meet in Srinagar on August 27 and 28.
Sources said the sticking points were whether the changes should be “limited” to accommodating Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and some other allies or “full blown”, keeping the Lok Sabha polls in mind. Vajpayee, the sources added, would also have to grapple with the problem of inducting another Trinamul member. While a section of the BJP is in favour of Sudip Bandopadhyay, it is learnt that Mamata’s choice is Ajit Panja.
With February elections very much on the BJP’s mind, a section felt this would possibly be the last ministerial shuffle and, as such, should be “all encompassing”.
However, it is learnt that the BJP chief was against any move to upset his organisational team and, with Assembly elections round the corner, was reluctant to spare any more functionaries for the government. The last shuffles saw the exit of Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Jaskaur Meena from Naidu’s team, although they had been inducted into the party with much fanfare.