BERTH LOBBYING AT FULL BLAST 

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By FROM KAY BENEDICT
  • Published 19.06.02
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New Delhi, June 19 :    New Delhi, June 19:  Jittery allies have begun jockeying for important portfolios as the buzz spread that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee could drop as many as 18 ministers in a major shuffle expected to take place on July 5. Some are seeking slots, others a shift. Vajpayee could have his hands full if he drops senior BJP ministers for party work. But when it comes to the party's allies, Vajpayee is not expected to have any worries in accommodating or shuffling ministers, barring those of the Trinamul Congress. Among those lobbying hard for key portfolios are Trinamul, the Shiv Sena, the Janata Dal (United), the Biju Janata Dal, the National Conference and the MDMK. Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and BJD leader and Orissa chief minister Navin Patnaik, who arrived here to be present when presidential candidate A.P.J. Abdul Kalam filed his nomination papers, used the opportunity to gauge the Prime Minister's mood. However, the Trinamul chief denied that she was here to lobby for a Cabinet berth. Mamata said she had come on Monday to attend Kalam filing the nomination and did not meet the Prime Minister. "I came here for some personal work and the nomination-filing, where I met Advani. Advaniji has gone out of the country and I am leaving for Calcutta on Friday," Mamata told The Telegraph. Patnaik met Vajpayee yesterday to seek a change in Arjun Sethi's portfolio from the "insignificant" water resources to coal or mines. Sources said the Prime Minister has assured the BJD chief that he would look into the portfolio demand. Mamata has been trying hard for her erstwhile railway ministry, currently held by the Samata Party's Nitish Kumar. Sources said that not only the Kumar camp, but the BJP top brass, too, was opposed to the idea. The Prime Minister, the sources said, was toying with the idea of offering her the rural development ministry if M. Venkaiah Naidu agreed to take up a senior organisational post. With reports of Naidu's unwillingness to work under BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi swirling about, Mamata might be offered coal or mines - portfolios the BJD is eyeing. Dal (U) president and labour minister Sharad Yadav wants out of his less flamboyant ministry. His chances were boosted by the fact that a section in the government is uncomfortable with his anti-reforms stand while a section in the BJP wants to reward him for not making Gujarat an issue like Ram Vilas Paswan. A Yadav aide said he has been lobbying for a return to his earlier civil aviation ministry or a shift to communications. While there is a talk of Shahnawaz Hussein being shunted out of civil aviation, communications minister Pramod Mahajan is unlikely to be drafted for party work. Sharad Yadav's camp has been entertaining the hope that Mahajan might replace finance minister Yashwant Sinha. However, another name - that of former CAG T.N. Chaturvedi - has cropped up for the finance minister's job. MDMK chief Vaiko, who has been lobbying for a slot at the expense of party colleague and minister of state for finance G.N. Ramachandran, stood a good chance as the sources said Vajpayee was keen to oblige him. The Sena could make several demands on Vajpayee. Bal Thackeray wants Anant Gete given an important Cabinet berth in place of Manohar Joshi, who was elected Lok Sabha Speaker last month. But the party is not keen on heavy industries, the ministry held by Joshi, as it lost its sheen after rampant disinvestment. It also wants a promotion for its junior minister Balasaheb Vikhe Patil. The grapevine has it that Thackeray is unhappy with power minister Suresh Prabhu and might get him dropped. National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah, who lost out in the race for Vice-President after Kalam was nominated for President, wants to shift to Delhi and is eyeing external affairs - a possibility if Jaswant Singh is shifted to finance as has been speculated in a section of press.