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Virender Kapoor | May 09, 2005
Speculation is rife in Congress circles about an impending reshuffle of the Union Cabinet.
Sometime later this month Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is expected to change and chop a few ministerial heads in the light of their performance in the last one year of the United Progressive Alliance government.
Though opinion on the fate of Minister of State for Tourism Renuka Choudhary is divided, there is a strong possibility of the old Gandhi family retainer Captain Satish Sharma being inducted into the Cabinet.
Sharma finds himself in the clear following a government order barring the Central Bureau of Investigation from pursuing investigations or filing an appeal against his acquittal in the Supreme Court.
But because incumbent Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar has acquitted himself reasonably well in his second charge -- his substantive charge initially was that of the panchayat portfolio -- there is little chance of the captain being brought back to petroleum.
In some Congress quarters, there was talk of him being given an equally lucrative charge of the urban welfare ministry. Why should Ghulam Nabi Azad surrender the milch cow without a fight remains unclear. A public interest litigation to stall Sharma's induction, however, cannot be ruled out.
Shivraj Patil has not exactly covered himself with glory as the country's home minister. At one stage there was a move to shift Pranab Mukherjee from defence to home.
Following the first affidavit in the Supreme Court clearing Mukherjee's predecessor George Fernandes of wrongdoing in arms purchases during the National Democratic Alliance regime, 10, Janpath (Congress President Sonia Gandhi's home) has demonstrably cooled off towards Pranabda. As a result, he may not be promoted to home.
Instead, it is P Chidambaram who might go back to home, this time as a full-fledged Cabinet-ranked minister.
In the Rajiv Gandhi government, Chidambaram was a minister of state for internal security under the stewardship of then home minister Buta Singh.
Chidambaram has several detractors in top echelons of the Congress. Even Sonia is not enamoured of him. It is public knowledge that he owes his present job to Dr Singh.
With 'heavyweights' such as Mukherjee and Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh ruled out for the tough job, Chidambaram's shift to home cannot be ruled out, especially when the Leftists disapprove of his economic policies.
If Chidambaram moves to home, the buzz in ruling party circles is that the prime minister may still like to bring in an expert to head the finance ministry.
The name of former Reserve Bank of India governor Dr C Rangarajan, who now heads the prime minister's economic advisory council, is being discussed.
But given the pulls and pressures of power politics, some or all of the changes speculated above might not fructify into reality.
For, till the very last minute, the prime minister and Sonia have to reckon with various imponderables contingent upon a major Cabinet reshuffle.
Another election soon?
According to senior Congressmen, who are known to enjoy the confidence of Sonia Gandhi, a general election sometime later this year cannot be ruled out.
And credence to this theory has been lent by none other than Union Minister for Steel, Chemicals and Fertilisers Ram Vilas Paswan.
He shared his fear of an early general election with a couple of his confidants recently.
Sonia's advisers believe that given the disarray in the Opposition ranks, and given Prime Minister Singh's generally positive image, it may be propitious to try and bolster the number of Congress members in the Lok Sabha by going in for, say, a December poll.
If you believe Paswan, the Congress would seek votes this time around on a twin plank.
One, to give it enough seats so that it does not need to take the support of 'tainted' politicians like Lalu Prasad Yadav; and second, to make Sonia Gandhi prime minister.
But, without it making any headway in the crucial states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the Congress might find raising its strength difficult.
Dance bars to stay
Mumbai's bar girls need no longer take their act to the streets of the metropolis. The axe will not fall on them since their tormentor-in-chief, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister R R Patil has been brought round to take a kindly view of their vocation.
Senior Nationalist Congress Party leaders have quietly worked on Patil to go slow on his crusade, which would have rendered 75,000 bar girls -- besides hundreds of thousands of others employed in the 1,500-odd dance bars in the state -- jobless.
The dance bars will survive but will have to put up with quite a few 'safeguards and restrictions' meant to ensure that these do not turn into 'dens of sleaze.'
NCP President Sharad Pawar interceded on behalf of dance bars for Patil to realise that it was difficult to go back to a pristine rural life in these liberal times.
How the foreign media can go wrong ought to be clear from the case of Gautam Goswami.
The former Patna district magistrate figured in Time magazine's list of 100 future leaders of Asia on the strength of a single act -- when he stopped an election rally being addressed by BJP leader Lal Kishenchand Advani, upon it extending beyond the 10 pm time limit set by the Election Commission during the last Lok Sabha election.
But while allegations of a scam in the diversion of flood relief funds to private pockets has given Goswami a very different kind of publicity, the lid, we hear, is yet to be taken off a still bigger controversy involving the alleged acquisition of huge chunks of land in and around Patna.
Goswami did not wait to be relieved by the controlling authority of the IAS cadre, the department of personnel, Government of India, to join a business conglomerate.
If only the Time correspondent had cared to speak to Goswami's colleagues, he would not have idolised an officer who now appears to be in deep trouble.
The Marxists sure know how to hunt with the hounds and run with the hare.
The case in point is the implementation of the Value Added Tax.
As the head of the states' co-ordination committee on VAT, West Bengal Finance Minister Ashim Dasgupta has been in the forefront of the effort to persuade the reluctant states to fall in line.
However, the Marxists in West Bengal quietly made common cause with the traders' bodies that launched a stir in the state against VAT. In Kolkata it was common knowledge that the anti-VAT traders enjoyed the not-so-covert support of the Communist Party of India-Marxist.
Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh