Friday, May 18, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Cabinet expansion in early June
T. R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 17
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is expected to undertake a reshuffle-cum-expansion of his Council of Ministers in the first week of June.

With the mini General Election in four states and the union territory of Pondicherry out of the way, where the BJP did not have any real stakes, some realignment of political forces at the Centre is on the cards.

The BJP think-tank has got down to the task of serious introspection, especially as its allies at the helm of affairs in Tamil Nadu and Assam have received a severe drubbing. The upswing of the fortunes of the Congress in Kerala, Assam and Pondicherry has made BJP strategists sit up and take note about the slippages, the consequences of which can be deleterious if it is not arrested in time.

The intervening period provides Mr Vajpayee the breathing space to mull over matters in plugging the gaps in his Cabinet. The Prime Minister’s assertion of bringing in new faces in his Cabinet is a pointer to some parties at present out of the ambit of BJP-led National Democratic Alliance joining hands provided they are accommodated in the Union Council of Ministers. Most importantly, Mr Vajpayee is already talking in terms of preparing for the next General Election which is indicative of the BJP’s popularity graph being on the downslide.

Next year’s Assembly elections in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh which sends the largest number of 85 members to the Lok Sabha can be a barometer of the BJP’s prospects in the Hindi heartland.

The outcome of the Lok Sabha byelection in Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh on May 10 along with the Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Pondicherry have come as a dampener because the BJP finished fourth after the Samajwadi Party, the Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party. The saffron brigade also lost the Tiruchirapalli Lok Sabha seat in Tamil Nadu which fell vacant following the death of Union Minister P. R. Kumaramangalam.

In Tamil Nadu, it is widely believed that the RSS played spoilsport in working against the DMK-led NDA combine which propelled AIADMK supremo J. Jayalalitha’s secular front in recording an astounding victory.

Mr Vajpayee firmly believes that he has to do some finetuning, whereby the BJP improves its image and manages to regain the confidence of the people at large. Therefore, it might not be long when he endeavours to boost the arithmetic of the BJP-led NDA in the Lok Sabha even if the exercise tantamounts to being a marginal one.

The Cabinet expansion will have to wait as President K. R. Narayanan is leaving for his summer retreat near Shimla on Saturday and expected to return on May 28. Mr Vajpayee is also proposing to take a week’s vacation in Manali in the third week of this month and reappear in the national Capital on June 1. 

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