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|October 13, 1999||
Vajpayee puts the BJP ahead of allies
Fortyfive out of 70. That was the Bharatiya Janata Party's score in Atal Bihari Vajpayee's council of ministers. In cricketing terms that is a strike rate of about 70 -- far exceeding the BJP's tally in the National Democratic Alliance.
And mind you, that comes on the heels of numerous reports of the BJP's allies pressuring the prime minister to accommodate their candidates, and even that the BJP may be forced to play second fiddle in the matter of ministry formation -- entirely the prime minister's prerogative, lest it be forgotten in these days of multi-party coalitions.
All such belief was demolished in just two hours flat this morning, when the long train of BJP members started on the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Just consider the numbers: the BJP has a whopping 16 Cabinet ministers out of 26 (including the prime minister), three ministers of state with independent charge out of seven, and 27 ministers of state out of 37. Signs of caving in, anyone?
That the PM was not to be cowed down by individual reputations -- as evident from the omission of the redoubtable Ramakrishna Hegde from the Union Cabinet. Surjeet Singh Barnala too was out, so the message that seems to have out from the prime minister is that winnability was the criterion, nothing else. Both the Janata Dal-United and the Akali Dal did not acquit themselves well in Karnataka and Punjab in the recent elections.
Hegde's potential for mischief has also been severely restricted with the prime minister nominating all the other four heavyweights from the JD-U -- all of them from Bihar, incidentally, which stood by the BJP like the rock the Gibraltar.
If that injected an element of accountability among the BJP's allies, the prime minister has also been quick to reward true friends.
Like those from Tamil Nadu, all of whom have in all taken 7 ministerships among them.
That was no doubt helped by the Telugu Desam Party, the BJP's largest ally, choosing to stay out of the government, but that is no reason to fob off Andhra Pradesh with just 4 minister of state positions, a state that plumped for the prime minister in the general election.
Of course, the prime minister has raised enough eyebrows with his decision to ignore Delhi with just one Cabinet berth, especially when the capital region gave it all to the BJP. So no Sahib Singh Verma, no Madanlal Khurana, and, surprisingly, no Sushma Swaraj either.
It helps the prime minister, in a way, to contain any budding resentment on his allies' part, for it can always be pointed out that even BJP stalwarts/faithfuls have been kept on the sidelines.
Another way of looking at this is that government seems to be literally overflowing with talent -- that so many have been left out. This is one of the advantages of a multi-party coalition over single-party, the pooling of talent that this leads to,
Taking the NDA's strength to be around 280 -- even though in fact it is above 300 -- the prime minister has taken near about one out of every four MP into his A-team. That's a large number, by any reckoning. To see it in perspective, if Rajiv Gandhi had done the same in 1984, he would have had a Union council whose numbers exceeded 100.
Compared to Vajpayee's council of ministers in the 12th Lok Sabha, this is a much more representative ministry, and not just in terms of geographical regions. For the first time, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the National Conference have been persuaded to join the BJP government at the Centre, as has the Trinamul Congress whose chief Mamta Banerjee is her party's lone member of the Cabinet.
Obviously, the prime minister believes that the antidote to destabilisation is active participation in his government, even though the Jayalalitha experience is too recent to be shoved into the recesses of one's memory.
But the problems for the prime minister with this council could arise in the days to come, whenever there is a makeover -- like, say, if the Nationalist Congress party chooses to join the government in exchange for support in Maharashtra or if Chandrababu Naidu decides to join the government. Seventy, then, could prove too small a number.
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