Monday, July 1, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Jaswant Singh to be new Finance Minister
Venkaiah set to be BJP chief; Jaitley, Thakur quit
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 30
Even as External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh’s shift to the Union Finance Ministry and Rural Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu taking over as the BJP President appears imminent, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee gave finishing touches to the critical expansion-cum-reshuffle of his Cabinet here tonight.

Mr Vajpayee held a series of meetings during the day with his strategists for bringing about a generational change in the BJP and his jumbo Council of Ministers.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, Union Defence Minister and NDA convener George Fernandes and Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan comprised the think tank. It is evident that Mr Advani has had a key role in the changes being effected. The swearing-in ceremony will he held at Rashtrapati Bhavan at 6 p.m. tomorrow.

Several ministers are being moved out from the government to take up party work and other youthful members in the government have been sounded out about the possible change in their portfolios to impart dynamism in the overall functioning of the administration.

Union Law Minister Arun Jaitley and Union Health Minister C.P. Thakur have submitted their resignations to the Prime Minister. While Mr Jaitley is to take up BJP organisational work it is not immediately known what fate awaits Mr Thakur. Planning and Programme Implementation Minister Maneka Gandhi is another minister who is likely to be dropped for non-performance.

The Union Minister of State for External Affairs has made a case for making his exit as his responsibilities in Jammu and Kashmir had increased with his assuming the presidentship of the National Conference. He conveyed to the Prime Minister that he was not able to devote much time to MEA or be of any assistance to Mr Jaswant Singh.

That the Prime Minister is undertaking a delicate balancing act both in streamlining his government and giving a fresh impetus to the BJP is not in doubt. The effort is to dovetail the demands of the Sangh Parivar in the excercise under way, besides consolidating the NDA for the challenges ahead.

In the mid-term course correction an eye has been kept in inducting Dalits, Jats and other unrepresented sections, including the backward classes. The exercise is aimed at making the Council of Ministers as representative as possible.

The reinduction of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee in the Cabinet is not without its attendent pinpricks on the allotment of portfolio. Considering the demands of her constituents, Ms Banerjee wants to return to Rail Bhavan as the Railways Minister. She has been politely but firmly told that it is not possible to accommodate her in the Railways.

Ms Banerjee, who had a meeting with Mr Vajpayee after returning here from Kolkata, indicated that there were hitches. She refused to disclose the details of her discussions with the Prime Minister but said holding discussions was the bottom line in politics.

The Trinamool Congress leader obviously wants a ministry whereby she can fulfil the aspirations of her constituents in West Bengal and wanted only the Railways portfolio.

Urban Development Minister Ananth Kumar, Sports Minister Uma Bharti and Minister of State for Small-Scale Industries Vasundhara Raje seemed to have earned a temporary reprieve though they might be drafted for party work at a later stage.

The induction of two PMK ministers following the return of the regional party from Tamil Nadu to the NDA fold should be a smooth affair. However, sources in the Prime Minister’s office affirmed that any glitches pertaining to Ms Banerjee’s preferences on portfolio would be sorted out.

It is apparent that the simmering discontent among some alliance partners is yet to be sorted out. After much persuasion outgoing BJP President Jana Krishnamurthy has fallen in line and agreed to join Mr Vajpayee’s Cabinet.

Mr Krishnamurthy called on Mr Vajpayee and had a lengthy meeting with him. Clearly, Mr Krishnamurthy had been unhappy with the summary manner in which he was asked to give up the BJP presidentship. He had initially expressed reservations about joining the Vajpayee government and subsequently changed his tune on the ground that one did not say “no” to the Prime Minister.

The appointment of Mr Vinay Katiyar as the chief of the UP BJP unit is said to have triggered Mr Krishnamurthy’s exit as the numero uno of the BJP. He is also said to have taken exception to the alleged machination of a minister to engineer his ouster as the BJP President.

Mr Venkaiah Naidu is expected to take over as the BJP president at the meeting of the party’s office-bearers here tomorrow. The revamp of the party is on the cards especially after the electoral debacles in Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Punjab. Former U P Chief Minister Rajnath Singh, Union Law Minister Arun Jaitley and some others are to be roped in for party work.

Meanwhile, those likely to make their exit from the government for having failed to pull up their socks are already beginning to feel the heat. Mr Thakur accused the “gutka” and other powerful lobbies of trying to see his ouster.

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