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|October 14, 1999||
Defiance cost Bakht his ministerial berth
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
Open defiance of the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership during Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's election as leader of the National Democratic Alliance in Parliament was chiefly instrumental for Sikandar Bakht's omission from the new council of ministers, top BJP sources said today.
"Sikandar Bakht's disrespectful and deplorable conduct in the Central Hall of Parliament during Vajpayeeji's election sealed his fate. You can't get away with this sort of conduct by thumbing your nose at the very people who decide who is going to be in government and who is going to stay out," the sources, who insisted on not being identified, said.
It is understood that when the NDA leader was being elected in the Central Hall, Vajpayee was the "automatic choice". After his name was proposed, several leaders rushed to the microphone to second the proposal.
At this juncture, Union Home Minister L K Advani requested Bakht to also go to the microphone and second Vajpayee's name. But Bakht, without rising, loudly proclaimed that he was seconding the prime minister's name from his seat. This annoyed Advani, but he kept quiet.
A BJP Lok Sabha member from Bihar said, "Bakht's conduct over the past two years has been increasingly subjected to criticism, but his behaviour on October 10 was too defiant. He is a senior party member and should have known better than to behave the way he did."
He said Bakht came under fire way back in 1996 when Prime Minister Vajpayee allotted him the urban development ministry. But Bakht took umbrage at being given this ministry and made it clear that it was too insignificant for a politician of his stature. To emphatically register his protest, Bakht did not attend office in the urban development ministry, embarrassing the party.
Well -meaning senior BJP members intervened on Bakht's behalf and the prime minister subsequently gave him the external affairs ministry. But the government itself was short-lived and lasted only 13 days.
After the 1998 poll, Vajpayee allotted the important industry portfolio to Bakht, keeping in mind his earlier tantrums. But Bakht's performance in this department in the 13-month NDA government left a lot to be desired, the BJP sources said.
Meanwhile, Bakht's "irascible" mood came in for further criticism in BJP circles and there was a clamour to discipline him.
MPs close to Advani maintained that a proposal to make Bakht a governor was being actively considered by the BJP leadership. But Bakht got wind of this and announced to some party workers that he would not budge from the Centre, come what may.
While a section of the BJP leadership has cautioned Vajpayee that irresponsible acts by senior politicians like Bakht could damage the party's and the NDA's unity, Vajpayee reportedly does not favour any precipitate action at this moment. He, however, indicated that "errant" partymen would be pulled up at the appropriate time.
Referring to Janata Dal (United) politician Ramakrishna Hegde's omission, the BJP sources said the party's Karnataka unit had told the prime minister that Hegde had to take the rap for the BJP-JDU combine's mediocre showing in the state because he was chiefly responsible for forcing the alliance through. The Karnataka unit leaders claimed that had the party gone to the polls alone, it could have won at least 15 seats.
Referring to Hegde's attempts to mobilise support for himself against his exclusion from government, the sources said it would have little impact on the prime minister who has chosen his ministers with "deep thought and care". Moreover, Hegde is a Rajya Sabha member and his efforts to drum up support among the NDA's team in the Lok Sabha would have limited effect.
As for the reported resentment of Sahib Singh Verma, Vijay Kumar Malhotra and Madan Lal Khurana (all members of the Lok Sabha from Delhi) at their exclusion from the Cabinet, the sources had an explanation for that as well. According to them, the Punjabi voters in Delhi would have taken offence if Verma, a Jat, was accommodated in the government. Similarly, the Jat voters would have been offended if either Malhotra or Khurana, both Punjabis, had got a berth. The prime minister, therefore, settled the matter by retaining Jagmohan, who was urban development minister in the last government as well.
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