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Berth pangs in Uttarakhand
Khanduri’s 2-man force takes oath
Raju William
Tribune News Service

Dehra Dun, March 8
New Uttarakhand Chief Minister BC Khanduri, took oath of office along with one cabinet rank minister Prakash Pant as heavyweight BJP MLAs aspiring for ministerial berths took note of the ceremony, held in public at Parade Ground, here today.

A retired Army officer Khanduri faces the difficult task of accommodating heavyweight BJP MLAs and balancing caste, regional and community factors during formation of the cabinet which cannot have more than 12 ministers.

Political observers term the induction of Pant, a former Speaker representing Kumaon along with Khanduri, belonging to Garhwal as having struck a regional balance but an imbalance remained in terms of community as both were Brahamins. It failed to send the right message to Thakurs who comprise more than 60 per cent of the state's population.

Falling short of majority by a single legislator, BJP has got the support of two independent legislators.

The BJP cannot afford to keep them out of the cabinet as on their support hinges the life of the government. The support of 3-member UKD group in the assembly too has not come without a price. The UKD is also expecting at least one berth in the cabinet.

Sources said there were many senior BJP leaders who had earlier been ministers in the interim BJP government as well in UP, when Uttarakhand came into being.

They include the leader of BJP in previous Assembly Matbar Singh Kandari and former ministers Ramesh Nishank, Bansi Dhar Bhagat, Harbans Kapoor and Kedar Singh Phonia. Besides, three term MLAs Munna Singh Chauhan and Bishan Singh Chaufal are also in the race.

The BJP has to give representation the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, women, minorities and to Hardwar district. Khanduri is probably facing the toughest political task in his career as heavyweight aspirants outnumber the seven berths left for them.

Since the BJP promised good governance in its manifesto, it cannot indulge in distribution of sizeable number of ministerial ranks outside the ministry like the previous Congress government. In fact, Khanduri and the BJP top brass have been grappling with the problem for a week without any solution since his election as the leader of the BJP legislature party. Khanduri returned here Wednesday evening after staying in Delhi to sort out the problem with the help of BJP leadership.

Rajnath Singh BJP national president, came up with untenable explanation that induction of one minister was done to fulfil constitutional obligation in a post ceremony news conference. The CM would expand the ministry later, he added. Sources inform that the efforts of former PM AB Vajpayee in this regard also failed to yield any results. Here to attend the ceremony, Vajpayee held parleys with Khanduri and another strong contender for the top post Bhagat Singh Koshiyari but no consensus emerged over the issue of cabinet formation, sources add.

Hurt over the rejection of his claim, Koshiyari, despite being asked repeatedly to name MLAs for the ministerial berths, refused on the grounds that it was the prerogative of the CM. Finally, Vajpayee cleared the name of Pant.

Governor Sudarshan Agarwal administered the oath of secrecy of office to Khanduri and the cabinet minister Prakash Pant at the swearing in ceremony lasting a few minutes only.

The BJP stalwarts including former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former union minister Murli Manohar Joshi, Chattisgarh CM Raman Singh and former Delhi CM Sahib Singh Verma besides NDA convener George Fernandes, Akali leaders Capt. Kanwaljit Singh and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa were present on the occasion. BJP president Rajnath Singh, Dy CM, Bihar, Sushil Kumar Modi and BJP Rajya Sabha member Hema Malini reached late due to delayed flight.

Other guests include former Congress CM Narain Dutt Tiwari and recently elected Congress MP from Tehri and Khanduri's cousin Vijay Bahuguna.

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