Thursday, March 6, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Sonia clears HP Cabinet
Musafir likely to be Speaker; Dharam Pal Dy Speaker
Prashant Sood
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 5
Mr Virbhadra Singh will be sworn in as the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh tomorrow along with his Cabinet, which is likely to have 15 ministers.

Mr Virbhadra Singh, who came here to meet the Congress President, Ms Sonia Gandhi, over the formation of his Cabinet, said the expansion of the ministry would take place after the Budget session of the Assembly. He said the size of the ministry would be kept “as small as possible.’’

Among the MLAs likely to be inducted into the Cabinet were Mr Kaul Singh, Mr Sat Mahajan, Mr Rangila Ram Rao, Mr Chander Kumar, Mrs Chandresh Kumari, Mr Ram Lal Thakur, Mr Vijai Singh Mankotia, Mr Singhi Ram, Mr G S Bali, Mr B.B.L. Butail, Mrs Asha Kumari, Mr Harsh Mahajan, Mr Raj Kishan Gaur and Mr Kuldeep Kumar.

Mr Gangu Ram Musafir is likely to be the party’s choice for Speaker. The Congress is not in a mood to give the post of Deputy Speaker to the BJP and has chosen Mr Dharam Pal as its candidate for the post.

There was some speculation at the AICC here whether PCC chief Vidya Stokes, who has been offered a Cabinet berth by Mr Virbhadra Singh, would join his ministry.

Ms Stokes, who apparently met Ms Gandhi before Mr Virbhadra Singh, conveyed her reluctance to join the Cabinet. She also met AICC General Secretary Mohsina Kidwai, who is in charge of the state.

“I have conveyed my opinion to the high-command and would abide by decision of the Congress President,’’ she said. The PCC chief had earlier made it clear that she was not interested in the post of Speaker. Among the factors weighing with supporters of Ms Stokes was her having to give up the post of PCC chief in case she joins the cabinet.

In an apparent concession to Mrs Stokes, several of her supporters have been included in the list of ministers. Senior AICC leaders were also insisting that her name be called after that of the Chief Minister during the swearing-in function.

Apart from Ms Kidawi and AICC treasurer Motilal Vora, tomorrow’s swearing-in ceremony will be attended by Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh. Mr Virbhadra Singh will be taking oath as Chief Minister for the fifth time. He indicated that the state would not have a Deputy Chief Minister. Mr Singh said the issue of Deputy Chief Minister had been examined many times in the past but had never been favoured for a small state like Himachal Pradesh.

“This will lead to more divisions,’’ he said.

Mr Virbhadra Singh said corruption had emerged as the main issue in the elections and his government would tackle this problem. “We will investigate all cases of corruption and take suitable action after investigations,’’ he said.

The Chief Minister designate said that apart from the recent corruption issues raised during the election campaign, the party will also probe the allegations levelled in the charge sheet submitted to the Governor by the Congress in 2000. “But there will be no witch-hunting,’’ he said. Mr Singh pointed out that some ministers and MLAs of the BJP-HVC combine had also levelled charges against their own government.

Reacting to the corruption charges being levelled by the BJP, Mr Virbhadra Singh said he was not facing a corruption case but “a criminal case had been made out against him.’’ The BJP leader Mr Prem Kumar Dhumal, has tried to implicate me,’’ he said, adding that no charges had been framed against him.

Mr Singh said that he was given a clean chit by the CBI in all 24 charges levelled against him by the Dhumal government. He said young MLAs, particularly those who had defeated BJP stalwarts, would be rewarded.

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