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|October 15, 1999||
Sharad Yadav offers Hegde party leadership
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
The ruling National Democratic Alliance has begun exercises aimed at defusing the crisis arising out of senior Janata Dal (United) politician and former Union commerce minister Ramakrishna Hegde's exclusion from the Union government.
A senior JD-U politician from Bihar told rediff.com today that "our foremost concern is to ensure that [Prime Minister Atal Bihari] Vajpayeeji is not embarrassed by this controversy about who is in and who is out of the Council of Ministers. We have a comfortable majority and we don't want to spoil the show. We want to smooth the ruffled feathers and have started a dialogue with Hegdeji."
This politician pointed out that every single NDA member of Parliament could obviously not be accommodated in the Council of Ministers. For instance, he said, the JD-U's Bihar unit had clearly told all 20 party MPs from the state that the composition of the Council of Ministers is the prime minister's prerogative and no pressure from anyone would be entertained.
He referred to the JD-U MP elected from Muzaffarpur, Jai Narayan Prasad Nishad, who had joined the party after deserting Laloo Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal. "Nishad should realise that there are far stronger contenders for a berth in the government than him. Party members have been working dedicatedly for it for a long time and they have priority over newcomers like him."
Referring to another JD-U MP from Maharajganj, Prabhunath Singh's "running from pillar to post to acquire a ministerial berth", the politician said the leadership is beginning to get tired of such "persistent antics".
He pointed out how former Samata Party politician Shakuni Chaudhary had tried to "blackmail" Vajpayee during the tenure of the twelfth Lok Sabha into giving him a ministerial berth, but had failed miserably. Chaudhary, thereafter, left to join the RJD, but "he has not been able to make any significant political progress". So Prabhunath Singh should not test Vajpayeeji's patience, he suggested.
Hegde, however, is a different kettle of fish considering his stature and seniority in the previous government. His exclusion this time has caused more sparks than the NDA leadership had anticipated. According to a Delhi-based JD-U politician, there is fear in a section of the NDA that Hegde's exclusion from the government could spur him to join hands with arch-rival and JD (Secular) leader H D Deve Gowda.
"Yes, some leaders in the NDA feel that the Hegde-Deve Gowda-Patel front could become the rallying point for dissatisfied MPs from the ruling coalition," a BJP parliamentarian confirmed. "The idea is to have the minimum of hassles this time. And given the recent experience (when the Vajpayee government was toppled by a solitary vote), the prime minister's obvious political compulsions do not permit him to antagonise, as far as possible, senior NDA politicians who can upset his apple cart," he pointed out.
This realisation among the JD-U leaders has compelled some of them to try to placate the fuming Hegde. JD-U president Sharad Yadav yesterday visited the former Karnataka chief minister in a bid to persuade him to take up his [the party chief's] post. Though Hegde heard Yadav out patiently, he did not disclose his mind.
"Please don't make much of this, it is no controversy. Hegdeji is a dear friend of ours, he has excellent relations with everybody in the NDA," Yadav later told waiting reporters outside his Akbar Road residence. He, however, had no response when asked why Hegde was blaming Defence Minister George Fernandes for his exclusion. "Don't worry, we will sort things out very soon," he offered.
Fernandes was unavailable for comment. However, his party colleague and general secretary Jaya Jaitley echoed his explanation that "including or excluding anybody from his council of ministers is the prime minister's prerogative". She added that the Vajpayee government does not face any threat from within or without, but admitted that "it is impossible to please all MPs in the alliance and noises will continue to be made for some time".
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