Sunday, October 1, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

PM expands ministry
Sushma, Naidu get Cabinet rank
From T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Sept 30 — Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s jumbo-sized Cabinet swelled with the induction of six more ministers here today — two of Cabinet rank and four ministers of state — thereby taking the tally to an all-time high of 75.

Mr Vajpayee made the expansion exercise an exclusive BJP affair with President K.R. Narayanan administering the oath of office and secrecy in Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Even as the swearing-in ceremony was under way, Union Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee dropped a bombshell in Calcutta that she along with her Trinamool Congress colleague Ajit Panja had resigned from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government in protest against the increase in the prices of petroleum products.

Ms Banerjee took strong exception to the fact that the NDA had not consulted her party in effecting the price hike. She had created a similar panic in the ranks of the NDA barely six months back but was somehow pacified not to press for her resignation.

Sources said in any case Ms Banerjee wanted to unshackle herself of ministerial responsibilities at least three months before the Assembly elections in West Bengal scheduled to be held in the first half of the next year. This would facilitate her in undertaking a no holds barred campaign in her home state. There are indications this might be the opportune moment to make that tactical exit. At the same time she would like to have one of her colleagues from the Trinamool Congress to oversee the Railways portfolio.

A beaming Sushma Swaraj, who refused the offer of an important post in the BJP party organisation, bounced back as a member of Mr Vajpayee’s Cabinet. As expected she has been given charge of information and broadcasting once again. Similarly, BJP spokesperson Venkaiah Naidu has also found favour with the Prime Minister for a ministerial berth. Mr Naidu has been given rural development.

Mrs Swaraj and Mr Naidu, who makes his advent in the Union Government for the first time, enjoy cabinet rank. Both of them are members of the Rajya Sabha.

The four ministers of state handpicked by Mr Vajpayee are Mr Satya Brata Mukherjee (West Bengal), Mr Shripad Yasso Naik (Goa), Mr Pon Radhakrishnan (Tamil Nadu) and Mr U. V. Krishnam Raju (Andhra Pradesh).

The Prime Minister has taken pains to send proper signals that his relationship with Union Home Minister L. K. Advani is on an even keel. Mr Advani’s supporters have found place in Mr Vajpayee’s scheme of things.

Mr Vajpayee has also tried to please Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray who had reportedly sought the key Ministries of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Power. Union Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister Suresh Prabhu of the Shiv Sena has been moved to the crucial Power Ministry.

Mr Vajpayee has endeavoured to make his ministerial team as representative as possible. He has tried to strike a balance in respect of Andhra Pradesh besides providing some presence from Tamil Nadu and Goa, which had hitherto been ignored. Along with the fresh inductions, he has also reshuffled portfolios so that the key economic areas received concentrated attention.

There were vacant slots in the Council of Ministers as far as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were concerned. With former Minister of State for Railways Bangaru Laxman being made the first Dalit president of the BJP coupled with the sudden resignation of Minister of State for Agriculture N. U. P. B. K. Satyanarayana Rao last night, the interests of Andhra Pradesh had to be accommodated.

Mr Naidu, who was finding it uncomfortable to function in the party organisation under Mr Laxman, and Mr Krishnam Raju, a film and theatre personality make their debut in the Union Government.

Mr Naik and Mr Mukherjee are first-time BJP members of the Lok Sabha. Mr Naik, who represents North Goa, is 48 years old and enjoys legislative experience having been a member of the Goa legislative assembly. Mr Mukherjee, who triumphed from Krishnagar in West Bengal on the other hand, is 68 years old and came into politics just five years back in 1995. Mr Mukherjee, a lawyer and journalist, has been a former Solicitor-General of India.

A ministerial vacancy had arisen from Tamil Nadu following the death of Union Power Minister P.R. Kumaramangalam. The Prime Minister picked Mr Radhakrishnan who represents Nagercoil in the Lok Sabha to be a minister of state in his Council of Ministers.

The portfolios of the four ministers of state are as follows: Mr Naik — agriculture, Mr Radhakrishnan — youth affairs and sports, Mr Mukherjee — chemicals and fertilisers and Mr Krishnam Raju — external affairs.

The Prime Minister has also effected some other changes. Ailing Union Minister Sunder Lal Patwa has been moved from rural development to chemicals and fertilisers. Six ministers of state have been given new assignments. Mr Syed Shahnawaz Hussain moves to human resources development, Mr V. Dhananjay Kumar to textiles, Mr G.N. Ramachandran shifts to finance, Ms Rita Verma will be the junior minister in rural development, Mr A Raja will assist in health and family welfare and Mr Ramesh Bais will function as Mrs Swaraj’s junior in the Information and Broadcasting Ministry.

Mr Arun Jaitley, who had been handling information and broadcasting along with law, justice and company affairs has been divested of information and broadcasting.


PM defends jumbo Cabinet
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Sept 30 — Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee sought to underplay the fact that his jumbo council of ministers is the largest ever at the Centre on the plea that he was running the largest ever BJP-led coalition government.

Talking to mediapersons after the swearing-in ceremony in Rashtrapati Bhavan here this evening, Mr Vajpayee refused to put a cap on the strength of his government. Though he ruled out any immediate expansion of his Cabinet, he said a lot depends on various factors like vacancies arising and other imponderables.

Emphasising that his government had the highest number of constituents joining hands on the majestic Raisina Hill, Mr Vajpayee said another expansion can take place as and when necessary. He claimed that there have been bigger ministries in the past.

The Prime Minister was extremely guarded in giving a direct answer about the blow hot, blow cold Uma Bharti being rehabilitated in his government. In his inimitable style, he alluded to Ms Bharti currently “resting” in the hill pilgrim centre of Kedarnath. He made it clear that he had no intentions of forwarding Ms Bharti’s resignation letter as a member of the Lok Sabha to Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi.

Ms Bharti had resigned her ministership in a huff and then, in some high-voltage drama, wanted to be resurrected in the government. Authoritative sources in the BJP said that it was only a question of time before she returned as a minister in the Vajpayee government. She is at present in Kedarnath and is expected to return to the Capital on October 8 or thereafter.

Mr Vajpayee refused to comment about the conviction of former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in the special CBI court in the JMM bribery case.

Stating that the BJP had sought a detailed report from its Gujarat unit on the party’s rout in the municipal elections in the state, he said he could only comment after a post mortem of the results. At the same time he acknowledged that the ruling party always had a tough time in any elections. It was apparent he did not expect easy pickings for the BJP in the five states where assembly elections are due next year.

About the deluge and floods in West Bengal, the Prime Minister said they were being treated as a national calamity.

There was palpable disquiet in the BJP camp on receipt of the news that Union Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress colleague Ajit Panja had decided to resign from the Vajpayee government because of the sharp increase in the prices of petroleum products.

Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Ram Naik contested Ms Banerjee’s claim that the Trinamool Congress had not been consulted on the price hike. He maintained that Ms Banerjee was present in the Cabinet meeting when it was decided to increase the price of petrol, diesel, kerosene and cooking gas.

Ms Banerjee had left an escape clause by stating in Calcutta that the Trinamool Congress was giving the Vajpayee government 72 hours to roll back the prices as it directly affected the poor.Back

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