Sunday, July 22, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Ajit to get Cabinet berth
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 21
With an eye on the Uttar Pradesh poll, the Prime Minister is slated to expand his Cabinet tomorrow by inducting Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Ajit Singh and grant him a post of Cabinet rank.

The swearing-in ceremony of a minor Cabinet expansion is scheduled for 6 pm at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Sunday.

The move to induct the Ajit Singh comes despite the opposition expressed by the Haryana Chief Minister and INLD leader Om Prakash Chautala.

Mr Chautala had even threatened to walk out of the NDA, which the party had been extending unconditional support if Ajit Singh is inducted in the Cabinet.

The move to induct Mr Ajit Singh, whose party has two MPs in the Lok Sabha, comes amidst BJP’s plans to tie up with the RLD for the assembly poll in Uttar Pradesh slated for early next year.

Sources said the Haryana Chief Minister met Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and has urged him not to induct the RLD in the NDA alliance as it would create an imbalance in the relations between the INLD and the BJP.

The agriculture portfolio, which Mr Ajit Singh has been vying for since a long time, is at present being held by Mr Nitish Kumar, who was given the additional charge of Railways after the resignation of Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Mr Ajit Singh, son of the late Chaudhary Charan Singh, represents the Baghpat constituency in western UP. He has been minister at the Centre twice and would re-enter the Cabinet after over five years. The PMK, which left the NDA and joined hands with the secular front floated by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha, before the elections, is hoping for a berth in the Vajpayee cabinet.

The PMK recently announced its intention to return to the NDA, expressing its displeasure over the “high-handed’’ style of functioning of Ms Jayalalitha. Mr Vajpayee has to fill several gaps in his Union Council of Ministers following the resignations of some ministers and re-alignment of forces in Tamil Nadu and the Trinamool Congress had also quit the NDA before the assembly elections in West Bengal.

There are at least five vacancies in the Council of Ministers after the resignation of Mr George Fernandes, Mr Mamata Banerjee, Mr Ajit Panja and PMK’s N T Shanmugham and E Poonuswamy. Mr Vajpayee had assured that he would undertake a Cabinet expansion-cum-reshuffle before the Monsoon Session which begins on Monday.

The Prime Minister called on President K. R. Naranayan here this evening and apprised him of his summit at Agra with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. During the meeting lasting 45 minutes, Mr Vajpayee gave a detailed account of why the Agra summit collapsed and failed to make any headway in India’s efforts to normalise relations with Pakistan.

He, however, assured the President that the Indo-Pak dialogue, which has been restarted at India’s initiative after Islamabad’s misadventure in the Kargil region of Jammu and Kashmir in 1999, would be taken forward on the basis of 1991 Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration.

It is understood that Mr Vajpayee also informed the President of his desire to expand the Cabinet on the eve of Monsoon Session.

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