Naidu holds the key to Cabinet expansion
Rajesh Ramachandran in New Delhi
The Atal Bihari Vajpayee ministry may be expanded within a couple of weeks. But a lot will depend on Telugu Desam Party president and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu's decision on joining the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government.
Close on the heels of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's disclosure that talks were on to induct the TDP into the government, BJP sources indicated that around 10 new ministers would be sworn in soon.
However, with Naidu playing the cards too close his chest, the BJP is unable to firm up its plans.
Sources said the TDP -- which has 12 members in the House like the Samata Party -- may settle for two Cabinet berths. But another BJP leader felt the TDP would ask for more. If that happens, the BJP may seek the Speaker's post.
"As the Speaker ranks above a Cabinet minister, the TDP should settle for one berth. But, if they want more, then we would ask them to relinquish the Speaker's post," said a BJP Parliamentary Board member.
As for the Trinamul Congress, its chief Mamata Bannerjee does not seem keen on joining the Cabinet. ''Nor does she want Ajit Panja's elevation. Mamata's stand suits us well," said a BJP leader.
But the possibility of Mamata joining the government is not ruled out. She may decide to join the ministry after the West Bengal local body elections in May.
Others likely to get inducted into the government are BJP national secretary Tapan Sikdar (from West Bengal), O
Rajagopal (from Kerala) who came into the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh, and scheduled tribe leader Karya Munda (from Bihar).
Maharashtra is also likely to get one more minister. It seems that Minister of State for Railways and Parliamentary Affairs Ram Naik would get a Cabinet berth and another member from Maharashtra would be inducted as minister of state.
Sources said the ministry will be expanded in two phases, considering Mamata's inability to join the Cabinet right away. The first phase is likely to be over before the party's national executive on April 11 and 12.
"At the meeting, several state representatives may hit out at the national executive that some states have not been given representation,'' said a national executive member. ''To avoid this, the party might go in for an expansion before the meeting."
Tell us what you think of this report