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|October 9, 1999||
Vajpayee starts blueprinting new government
George Iype in New Delhi
A core group of the National Democratic Alliance on Saturday got down to the strenuous business of shaping a trouble-free coalition government.
However, it could make little progress in the face of the clamour for plum portfolios from within the Bharatiya Janata Party and other alliance partners.
The NDA's government-forming group comprises Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Home Minister L K Advani, BJP president Shashikant 'Kushabhau' Thakre, Information and Broadcasting Minister Pramod Mahajan and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh.
BJP leaders disclosed that the swearing-in ceremony of the prime minister and a small Cabinet will be held most probably on October 14, as it is considered an auspicious day.
Sources said the BJP leadership has recommended that sharing power with the NDA constituents could be based on a 50:50 formula. Accordingly, while the single largest party -- the BJP -- will keep 50 per cent of ministries, the remaining 50 per cent will be distributed among the partners.
While most coalition partners are expected to agree to the proposal, it is unlikely they will abide by the BJP leadership's another wish: that the most important portfolios be held by the party.
"The problem is that the demand from partners is not for ministerial berths, but their insistence on particular portfolios which the BJP wants to keep for itself," a BJP leader told rediff.com
He, however, dismissed such demands as initial hiccups. "We are confident that all our allies will abide by the prime minister's prerogative in distributing the ministries according to the abilities of the aspirants," he added.
BJP leaders insist that like in the last government the party would keep with it at least four important portfolios -- finance, external affairs, home and human resource development. The clamour now is for finance and defence. Leaders -- particularly Prime Minister Vajpayee and Home Minister Advani -- insist that the party should keep the finance ministry to ensure that the pro-reform movement initiated by the last government is taken to its logical conclusion.
Sources said the two important regional players from south India -- the Telugu Desam Party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam -- are still debating whether to join the government or not. They want to be assured by Vajpayee that crucial portfolios like finance, defence and industry would be allocated to them.
DMK president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Karunanidhi is said to have put forward the suggestion that the finance ministry be given to his nephew Murasoli Maran, who was the industry minister in the United Front government. The BJP fears that if the TDP decides to join the government, the first move from Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu could be a demand for the finance ministry.
In fact, the finance portfolio is a bone of contention within the BJP itself. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh wants the prime minister to replace Yashwant Sinha with a candidate of its choice. However, Vajpayee is said favour Sinha's continuance. He is backed in this decision by Advani, Jaswant Singh and Pramod Mahajan.
Most senior BJP leaders feel that Defence Minister George Fernandes -- whom they hold responsible for the Kargil conflict -- should be divested of the portfolio and the party should take over the ministry. But, according to sources, Fernandes has advocated that he should retain the ministry -- otherwise, it would give the impression that the Kargil crisis erupted due to the Vajpayee government's failure.
BJP leaders said the prime minister's biggest priority now is to satisfy the five major NDA constituents -- the TDP, DMK, Janata Dal United, Trinamul Congress and Biju Janata Dal. "These alliance partners have romped home with bigger number of Lok Sabha seats and therefore we know that the BJP will have to agree to some of their demands," a BJP leader pointed out.
But the leaders expect that Vajpayee will not face much pressure in allocating portfolios. They feel that none of this year's partners are as demanding as the earlier ally, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham.
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