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March 16, 1998

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After alliances, the BJP now wrestles with ministry allocation

George Iype in New Delhi

Prime Minister-designate Atal Bihari Vajpayee spent Monday discussing with his party colleagues and the Bharatiya Janata Party's allies, the crucial and complex task ahead: namely, ministry formation.

Though the BJP leadership is silent on the size of the Union Cabinet, Vajpayee is said to have forced his major alliance partners like the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Samata Party, Lok Shakti, Biju Janata Dal and the Shiv Sena to agree to three proposals.

First, Vajpayee will constitute only a token Cabinet till his government wins the vote of confidence on March 29.

Second, a member from each alliance partner will be inducted into the Cabinet.

And third, the BJP will retain the most important portfolios in the government: home and finance.

Nearly 15 ministers are likely to be sworn in along with Vajpayee on Thursday. BJP sources said it may include some six Cabinet-level ministers from the BJP itself, while the rest would come from its allies.

Top BJP leaders who are expected to take the oath of office along with Vajpayee, include party president Lal Kishinchand Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Sikander Bakht, K L Sharma, Sushma Swaraj, Madan Lal Khurana and Uma Bharti.

Vajpayee, who met his likely BJP ministerial colleagues at his home on Monday, also discussed with them the allocation of portfolios. While a decision on key portfolios -- including finance and home -- is yet to be finalised, Advani has been asked "to choose any one of these two ministries," a senior BJP leader told Rediff On The NeT.

Party officials indicated that Advani is likely to be entrusted with the home ministry. As for finance, a debate is on in the party as to whether the BJP should bring in an outsider. Sources said Vajpayee would very much like to rope in Andhra Pradesh Governor Dr Chakravarty Rangarajan as his finance minister, but it is unlikely that the former Reserve Bank of India governor will agree to the invitation.

If Dr Rangarajan declines, the finance minister's job is likely to be given to Murli Manohar Joshi.

BJP sources said Vajpayee would entrust other key ministries like defence, communications, railways, industries, commerce and petroleum to the alliance partners.

Those who are tipped to get Cabinet posts in the Vajpayee government include Samata Party president George Fernandes, Lok Shakti chief Ramakrishna Hegde, the Shiromani Akali Dal's Surjeet Singh Barnala and Biju Janata Dal chief Naveen Patnaik.

The BJP leadership is also trying to persuade AIADMK general secretary J Jayalalitha to take up a Cabinet post, but it is likely that she would resist the overture.

But as per the deal clinched between her and the BJP leadership, there will be four representatives from the AIADMK and its Tamilian allies in the new government. Two of them from the AIADMK -- most likely V R Nedunchezhian and G Swaminathan -- would be made Cabinet ministers, while Vazhappady Ramamurthy and Vaiko will be made ministers of state.

Janata Party president Dr Subramanian Swamy, who was recommended by Jayalalitha for the finance berth, would not be part of the BJP ministry.

Party sources said Vajpayee was keen to accommodate Jaswant Singh and Pramod Mahajan in the Cabinet. Singh, who was finance minister in the 13-day Vajpayee government of 1996 and who played a crucial role in winning over an adamant Jayalalitha, was defeated in the Lok Sabha poll, as was Mahajan, the BJP's trouble-shooter.

Thus, while Singh and Mahajan will not figure in the first batch of ministers, sources said they would be given Rajya Sabha tickets and Vajpayee would retain some key portfolios to accommodate them in the future.

BJP leaders disclosed on Monday that while many top bureaucrats would be axed, some governors too would be given marching orders soon after the Vajpayee government is sworn in.

Those who will quit include Cabinet Secretary T S R Subramaniam, Planning Commission deputy chairperson Madhu Dandavate and other Commission members, the attorney general, the solicitor general and the three additional solicitor generals.

While controversial Uttar Pradesh Governor Romesh Bhandari resigned on Monday before the axe fell on him, other governors whose are likely to be removed include K Raghunath Reddy in West Bengal, P C Alexander in Maharashtra, Mohammed Shafi Qureshi in Madhya Pradesh, A R Kidwai in Bihar, Bali Ram Bhagat in Rajasthan and Krishan Prasad Singh in Gujarat.

Elections '98

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