Virendra Kapoor

Annoying the majority

The minor expansion-cum-reshuffle of the Union ministry -- with 70 members already on board there is little scope for a major expansion -- on Monday dashed the hopes of many a ministerial aspirant.

But there was none more dejected than Ramkrishna Hegde, that doughty leader of the one-man outfit, the Lok Shakti.

Instead of coming to terms with his reduced circumstances, Hegde openly bewailed his exclusion from the Vajpayee Cabinet and blamed all and sundry, from Defence Minister George Fernandes and Aviation Minister Sharad Yadav to "some people close to the prime minister" for his exclusion.

Hegde claimed his name was there in the list of ministers-designate till an hour-and-a-half before the actual swearing-in ceremony on Monday afternoon. This was, of course, wholly untrue. He had first arranged to have his name mentioned as one of the probables in the Monday morning papers although there was no basis for such speculation.

And when he did not get the all-important call from the Prime Minister's Office for the swearing-in, he changed tack, claiming his name was mysteriously erased at the very last minute.

The truth, however, is that the Vajpayee and Advani duo had drawn up a list of only four names. And they made themselves scarce thereafter to avoid being badgered.

Vajpayee was inaccessible to ministerial-hopefuls even though he was at his official Race Course Road residence. The personal staff at Advani's Pandara Road residence, meanwhile, claimed the home minister had had gone off to a small lakeside resort in Haryana.

Shotgun misses the target again

Unlike Hegde, Shatrughan Sinha has taken his non-inclusion in the Vajpayee ministry stoically.

Also unlike Hegde, Shotgun Sinha, a BJP member in the Rajya Sabha, had more claims to a Cabinet posting.

Again unlike Hegde, there were many rooting for Sinha in the ruling National Democratic Alliance, and the latter's continued exclusion from the Cabinet upset some people.

For Sinha has been a tireless campaigner for the BJP. Such was his drawing power that the BJP had placed a small aircraft and a helicopter at his disposal during the general election -- a facility made available to only two other party leaders, including Advani.

Sinha was in Patna when a newspaper first speculated about the impending expansion. His name was also mentioned in the list of probables by various television channels. He began to get congratulatory messages hours before the swearing-in ceremony.

When he returned to the capital a couple of hours before the actual swearing-in ceremony on Monday, he found his Talkatora Road home swarming with friends and admirers. Many had come bearing huge bouquets, anticipating he would be anointed a minister.

But as the hours passed without a call from the PMO, the mood in the Sinha household turned sombre, then positively sullen. 'Betrayal' and 'ingratitude' were the most polite words to describe the situation.

More ire was directed against Advani than against the premier, since Sinha was the home minister's protégé.

Friends and well-wishers of Sinha were unanimous that Advani had let him down. Even Vajpayee, it seems, had told Sinha that 'injustice' had been done to him, but it was Advani who betrayed his protégé for some reason.

Sinha himself refused to say a word against the BJP's Big Two.

But his friends still advised Sinha not to campaign for the BJP in the coming assembly election in Bihar. BJP circles maintain that Sinha's was kept out because he was a Kayasth. There was already a high-profile Kayasth in Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha; another one would look odd, they said.

But then look at the number of Brahmins in the ministry.

Saffron fine with Mahmood now

Three years it has been since members of the National Minorities Commission, including chairman Tahir Mahmood, began their term. And on November 25, the term came to an end.

Some members had begun lobbying for the renewal of their terms very early indeed, but none more than Mahmood himself.

Yes, the same Mahmood who had been lavish in his abuse of the BJP, playing more the heckler than the impartial authority, is now knocking at the doors of members of the Vajpayee Cabinet, seeking an extension of his term.

Among the perks the Commission offers, besides the salary of a secretary to the Government of India are a bungalow and a chauffeur-driven car. In addition, you get to travel all over the country at tax-payers's expense. Mahmood, a Delhi University teacher, is clearly willing to compromise his anti-BJP credentials when it comes to his post.

But a little bird tells us that all his fawning and flattering have been in vain and that Mahmood is likely to be replaced by retired Delhi high court judge Mohammed Shamim.

It was Justice Shamim's judgment disregarding the entries in the Jain brothers's infamous diaries without further corroborating evidence that had resulted in the acquittal of all the accused -- including L K Advani -- in the hawala case.

Among the members is also likely to be Tarlochan Singh, a former press adviser to the President of India.

Rearrangement in progress

Shuffle, shuffle, boil and bubble... Well, it is time for some diplomatic musical chairs.

And although these appointments were approved by the prime minister a few weeks ago, the official announcement must await the pro forma approval of the new appointees by the host countries.

Barring Mauritius, where Vajpayee sought that a respected civilian to replace M L Tripathi, who is moving to Dacca, all the other MEA proposals regarding the posting of senior diplomats met with his approval.

Somebody in the ministry sure knows what the PM wants.

Capital Buzz