Tuesday, May 20, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Cabinet expansion likely by May 25
Shanta Kumar’s return ruled out
S. Satyanarayanan
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 19
The much-awaited Cabinet expansion-cum-reshuffle is likely to take place either on May 24 or May 25, ahead of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s foreign visit.

While Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is likely to return to the Union Cabinet, sources ruled out the possibility of the reinduction of former Union Minister and senior BJP leader from Himachal Pradesh Shanta Kumar, into the Cabinet.

“Although there are demands from some quarters for taking back Mr Shanta Kumar in the Union Cabinet, it is unlikely as the reinduction of a man (Mr Shanta Kumar), who was asked to quit from the Cabinet on the grounds of indiscipline, would send a wrong message ahead of the elections,” a top BJP functionary told The Tribune here today.

Although the PMO is yet to take a final decision on the exact date and time for the Cabinet expansion, sources said it was likely to take place this weekend itself as the Prime Minister would be on a three-nation tour beginning May 27 and subsequently Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani would be off to the USA on June 8.

Sources maintained that although Mr Vajpayee had said in Manali yesterday that some new faces would be inducted into the Cabinet, “the expansion-cum-reshuffle affair is unlikely to be a major one.” The Prime Minister’s eye would also be on the fact that the strength of the Cabinet did not exceed 10 per cent of the total strength of Parliament.

The final contours of the Cabinet expansion would be drawn after the Prime Minister consulted the Deputy Prime Minister and BJP President Venkaiah Naidu, the sources said.

The sources dismissed the possibility of Ms Mamata Banerjee getting the Rural Development Ministry, which fell vacant after Mr Shanta Kumar was asked to step down, saying the BJP President had urged the Prime Minister that the Ministry should remain with the BJP as rural development, was a key area where the party could impress the electorate with the implementation of various schemes ahead of the next general elections in 2004.

Ms Mamata, who had held the Railway Ministry before she resigned from the Vajpayee’s Cabinet, could well be accommodated in the Ministry of Coal, sources said.

Agencies add: The party sources said there was little possibility of any minister being sent back to the party for organisational work though there were demands from party’s state units such as in Andhra Pradesh seeking the services of Minister of State for Railways Bandaru Dattatraya for the organisation.

The party was also said to be happy with the performance of Mr Arun Jaitley as Commerce Minister and was unlikely to relieve him from the Law Ministry, the sources said.

Any change in the Health Ministry headed by Mrs Sushma Swaraj and the Telecommunications Ministry led by Mr Arun Shourie may also be unlikely, the sources said.

So far as Ministers of State were concerned, there may be “consequential changes” as no major assessment of performance of ministers had been undertaken after the last reshuffle, they said.

BJP leaders also denied any proposal so far for inducting former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah into the Cabinet.

Meanwhile, on media speculation that Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh may be shown the door, sources close to him said it was “wishful thinking on the part of media which quite often carried reports like this.”

However, the BJP the sources said party chief Naidu, during a recent visit to Uttar Pradesh, had received “some feedback” on Mr Ajit Singh’s reported anti-BJP campaign in western UP.

The BJP also denied reports that Mr Naidu at a meeting with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati had sought that the Bahujan Samaj Party join the Cabinet.

KOLKATA: Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee said on Monday that she would abide by the Prime Minister’s decision if she was asked to join the Cabinet.

Ms Banerjee said, “I appreciate Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s feelings and concern for us in spite of being such a busy person. We cannot turn down his request in this regard as it will help us to fight the CPM in West Bengal.”

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