Virendra Kapoor

In January, after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee returns from a two-day sojourn to the Andamans, something is gonna happen.

Something as in a Cabinet expansion/reshuffle.

And in the new Cabinet, we predict, will be controversial journalist turned Bharatiya Janata Party MP Arun Shourie. In all likelihood as number two to Union Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani.

Advani has been soldiering on without a junior minister all these months. Shourie's coming would give him a breather, concerned sources say, and let him devote some time to the BJP's organisational affairs, which he so much wants to.

By the way, January 6 has been tentatively fixed for the Cabinet revamp.

Two banias, one job

Besides friend Shourie, who else would make it in this time around?

Sources say there could be a virtual toss-up between two BJP men. Vijay Goel, MP from Delhi's Chandini Chowk, and publisher Narendra Mohan, a Rajya Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh. Both have left no stone unturned to woo Vajpayee. But the prime minister can't accommodate both.

In normal circumstances, Goel would have stood no chance as there already were two Cabinet ministers from Delhi -- Jagmohan and Madan Lal Khurana. But Goel is close to Information and Broadcasting Minister Pramod Mahajan, and that, you see, makes a difference. Of late, he has also been pressing his claim as the 'representative of the BJP's younger elements.'

For his part, Mohan, owner-editor of an influential chain of Hindi newspapers in Uttar Pradesh, has stood by the BJP all through the recent phase. He also lays claim to a berth as the representative of the bania community (but then, so is Goel), which had consistently supported the BJP.

Vajpayee, thus, is going to be in a dilemma trying to figure out which bania to choose. The PM is fond of Goel for his energetic ways. But, in the end, he may have to settle for Mohan because it will be lop-sided to accord Delhi so many representations while UP and Madhya Pradesh lag behind.

Even Shourie, though elected to the Rajya Sabha from UP, is a Delhiite for all practical purposes.

Fight for freebie

Not many people are aware that former MPs are entitled to free and unlimited rail travel for self and a companion, in second class air-conditioned comforts, until the Allababad high court recently ordered the railways to stop the same. There are over 2,000-odd ex-MPs. Some of these worthies were found misusing the free travel facility.

Following the court order, the Ex-MPs Association, a registered body with Choudhary Ranbir Singh of Haryana as president and Hardayal Devgun of Delhi as secretary-general, petitioned the railway minister to restore the facility. He fobbed them off last week by promising to bring a suitable legislation.

Curiously, while the railways bill the ministry of parliamentary affairs for sitting MPs' travel, the facility accorded to former MPs is wholly unaccounted as no department is willing to pick up their tab. Naturally, the railways aren't overly keen to continue the freebie.

However former MPs have not given up hope. They believe that self-interest of the sitting MPs alone is their best bet. After all, a lot of them sooner rather than later would swell the ranks of former MPs, wouldn't they? Therefore, they are keeping the pressure on the railway minister to bring the relevant bill in the next session.

Boss Kant

Inder Kumar Gujral had hit the political jackpot when out of the blue they made him prime minister.

Gujral, in turn, had used his prime ministerial authority to make Krishan Kant, a politician of similar mould, vice-president. And ever since, Kant has been seeking to play the boss much beyond the call of his duties.

He reportedly intervened with the highest in the government to push the case for the membership of the recently-constituted National Security Advisory Board even though his nominee's credentials left much to be desired. The government gave in. Incidentally, the vice-president ex-officio acts as the Rajya Sabha chairman too.

Now Kant is virtually holding the government to ransom on the question of choosing a successor to the late Nikhil Chakraborty as chairman, Prasar Bharati. Kant is reportedly pushing the case of an unsavoury scribe who runs a news agency of sorts. The government is unimpressed with the nominee's credentials.

But so determined is Kant that he refuses to convene a meeting of the three-member committee entrusted with the task of choosing the chairman. Kant chairs the selection committee. Press Council chairman Justice P B Sawant and the government nominee, Rediff columnist T V R Shenoy, are the other two members.

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