Friday, September 29, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Cabinet expansion next week?
Shiv Sena demands its pound of flesh
From T. R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Sept 28 — There are indications that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has begun the exercise connected with the long-awaited expansion-cum-reshuffle of his Cabinet.

Highly placed sources said though the scope for expansion is limited, there is every likelihood of Mr Vajpayee inducting new faces in the Union Council of Ministers and reshuffling the portfolios before he leaves for Mumbai on October 8. The Prime Minister is scheduled to undergo a knee replacement surgery fixed at the Breach Candy Hospital on October 10.

Mr Vajpayee held preliminary consultations with the Shiv Sena yesterday when Union Minister for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises Manohar Joshi called on him.

Mr Joshi, who had earlier served as the Maharashtra Chief Minister, impressed upon the Prime Minister that the vacancy caused by Mr Ram Jethmalani’s ignominious exit from the Union Council of Ministers should be filled by a representative of the Shiv Sena. The argument advanced by Mr Joshi is that Mr Jethmalani, who looked after law, justice and company affairs represented the Shiv Sena for all practical purposes.

Mr Jethmalani, according to Mr Joshi, became a member of the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra with the explicit backing of the Shiv Sena. Therefore, Mr Jethmalani cannot be considered to be an independent as characterised in the records of the Rajya Sabha. It is apparent that Mr Joshi was merely serving as a postman by conveying the sentiments of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray.

Mr Thackeray’s iron-fist hold on the Shiv Sena is not in doubt. Even when the Shiv Sena-BJP combine was in power in Maharashtra, he gleefully acknowledged that he was “backseat driving” and that the erstwhile Shiv Sena chief ministers were mere pawns and acting on his dictates.

The Shiv Sena seeking its pound of flesh has added a new dimension to the eagerly awaited Cabinet expansion, though it is the Prime Minister’s prerogative to decide who he wants in his Council of Ministers.

Mr Vajpayee has necessarily to undertake a delicate balancing act considering the vicissitudes of coalition politics involving no fewer than a score of disparate parties and groups in Parliament. There are quite a few ministerial aspirants in the ranks of the BJP nervously chewing away their nails hoping to get that all-important call from the Prime Minister’s Office.

On the Shiv Sena front, the Prime Minister is facing a dilemma. His options are limited to inducting a fresh Shiv Sena minister of Cabinet rank as recommended by Mr Thackeray or elevate one of those serving as ministers of state.

Sources said the core economic portfolio of power cannot be overseen by the Prime Minister for an interminably long period. The vacancy was caused by the passing away of Rangarajan Kumaramangalam. A dynamic minister will have to be found. Then, there is a debate on whether the portfolios of information and broadcasting and law, justice and company affairs should be separated and overseen by two ministers. Back


Moderate oil price hike by tomorrow
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Sept 28 — The government will hike the price of oil by Saturday but the good news is that it will not be too steep.

The Finance Ministry has agreed to reduce import and excise duties and issue oil bonds that will work out to two-thirds burden of the estimated Rs 23,600 crore oil pool deficit by the end of the fiscal year. The price hike, to cover the remaining one-third portion of around Rs 8,000 crore, would be effected within two days.

Mr Naik told newspersons that the Finance Ministry had accepted all suggestions put forward by the Petroleum Ministry and this included a reduction in the customs duty on imported crude and a cut in the excise duty.

This, coupled with the issuance of oil bonds, would help keep the price hike to a minimum and provide relief to the consumers.

The Finance Ministry has also accepted in principle on returning Rs 4,429 crore deposit locked in government deposits.

Mr Naik indicated that five petroleum products — petrol, diesel, kerosene, LPG and aviation turbine — would come under the ambit of the price hike.

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