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October 13, 1999
BJP leader dubs swearing-in 'exercise in futility'
Onkar Singh in New Delhi
The swearing-in of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government today, according to a senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader, was an exercise in futility.
"We already have 70 members in the council of ministers and still there is scope of inducting deputy ministers. There is a sizeable number of those senior-ranking politicians both from the BJP and its allies who have been denied a place in the Cabinet. More then half a dozen of them are sitting and sulking," said the BJP leader, who did not want to be identified.
Top-most on the list of those sulking is Ramakrishna Hegde of Karnataka. Supporters of Hegde have been openly accusing Defence Minister George Fernandes for sabotaging his appointment to the Cabinet.
"How could the prime minister leave out a man like him? We have been told by Fernandes' own people that Fernandes did not want Hegde. He wanted to accommodate Sharad Yadav instead. They have forgotten that it was Hegde who thought of the Janata Dal-United. Now the founder has been left in the cold to bring in another Bihari leader! It was a mistake to appoint Fernandes as the co-ordinator on behalf of the party," said a close Hegde aide.
Hegde is not the only who feels that he has been slighted. Giving him company are no less leaders like Surjit Singh Barnala, Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa (both of Akali Dal Badal) and Sushma Swaraj, former chief ministers of Delhi Madan Lal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma and the man who defeated Dr Manmohan Singh from South Delhi, Vijay Kumar Malhotra.
The Akali Dal Badal leaders confirmed that Rajya Sabha member Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa was offered a Cabinet post but did not turn up for the swearing-in ceremony because he was delivered the letter of appointment only this morning. Dhindsa's supporters believe that Surjit Singh Barnala had deliberately delayed the letter to the SAD general secretary as Barnala has a lurking suspicion that Dhindsa sabotaged his election from Sangrur by joining hands with his rival Simranjit Singh Mann.
"Why did Dhindsa say that he got an invitation from the prime minister and yet he did not go? If you hand over a letter of appointment even to a clerk at nine in the morning and ask him to join at 10, he would take a taxi and go to his office. In this case Dhindsa had to go from Punjab Bhavan to Rashtrapati Bhavan which is hardly 10 minutes drive. The fact of the matter is that Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal had declined to name the Akali nominee and want to wait till some solution is found to bring Surjit Singh Barnala into the Union Cabinet," a Barnala supporter told rediff.com.
Delhi leaders Sushma Swaraj, Madan Lal Khurana, Vijay Kumar Malhotra and Sahib Singh Verma knew that only two could become Cabinet ministers as Jagmohan's place in the council of ministers was almost certain.
"But we did not foresee the inclusion of Arun Jaitley. Because of his inclusion, there was no way any other leader from Delhi could have been accommodated. What is amusing is that Sahib Singh Verma had told everyone that he was becoming a minister. He kept showing the letter given to him when he was removed from the chief ministership of Delhi to make way for Sushma Swaraj last year. Poor thing, he must have been heart-broken because he resigned from his government job only last week in anticipation of his appointment as a Cabinet minister.
Since the RSS was upset with Khurana, not many were surprised when he was not included. But after his impressive victory over Dr Manmohan Singh, Malhotra should have found a place in the Union Cabinet. Besides he is also a good administrator. Because of his involvement in the world of sports, he could have been very handy in the ministry of human resource development," said another senior BJP functionary.
But none of the BJP leaders were ready to openly question the decision of the prime minister. "It is his prerogative and he has exercised it. But he could have been little more liberal to Delhi as this is the only place where they got hundred per cent seats," admitted one of them.
Equally upset at not being included in the Union council of ministers is Vijay Lottery Goel who is known for his proximity to Vajpayee. Sikandar Bhakhat, also known as Sarkari Muslim in BJP, who was also left out from the Union council of ministers, was nowhere to be found.
But optimists have not given up. "Those who have been left out may be included in the next Cabinet expansion," they said.
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