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Mega cabinet expansion in UP, 70 new ministers inducted

Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh on Monday inducted 70 new faces into his ministry, including 26 of cabinet rank, increasing its strength to an all-time high of 93.

The largest-ever state ministry in India's history accommodates all defectors -- 22 Congressmen, 12 Bahujan Samaj Party and three Janata Dal leaders -- who have saved the BJP government.

"I have no hesitation in admitting that I inducted every member who supported our government on the floor of the house," Kalyan Singh said. "I do not see anything wrong in that. After all, our state is so huge. And so are the aspirations of the people, which we wish to fulfill."

What he was trying to achieve with such a large ministry, the CM justified, was ''regional balance as well as social representation''.

Of the 222 MLAs who supported the Kalyan Singh government during the October 21 trial of strength, nearly 45 per cent are ministers now.

The new faces include 44 ministers of state. The earlier ministry had 10 cabinet ministers and 12 ministers of state.

Despite the massive expansion, only two women and a Muslim have found their way into the ministry. No deputy minister has been inducted. From his own party, the chief minister has brought in 33 faces.

The new ministers also include a couple of leaders facing serious criminal charges. Of these, one has been accused of kidnapping for ransom and had recently eluded arrest when police raided his residence. On another occasion, he is reported to have ordered his men to open fire on a raiding police party.

Another minister -- known as the 'uncrowned king of east UP' -- has several criminal cases, including murder, dacoity, looting and kidnapping against him.

However, Kalyan Singh, whose party has been raising its voice against criminalisation in politics, makes no bones about defending them.

"I have not inducted a single criminal in my ministry," he said in answer to a barrage of queries in this regard. "No one can be labelled a criminal until he is convicted by a court of law. Mere registration of a case against a person does not make him a criminal."

Quoting his own example, he said, "For that matter, I have the Ayodhya case pending against me. Does that make me a criminal?"

His government, the CM was sure, would provide the much-desired political stability and speedy development in the state.

Asked why he had included the BSP members, who may face disqualification under the Anti Defection Act, Kalyan Singh said, "That is not my concern for now. When the matter comes up, we will see."

The expansion came after two days of hectic parleys between Kalyan Singh, state Bharatiya Janata Party chief Raj Nath Singh and party bigwigs in New Delhi.

Sources said there was much debate over the induction of the two leaders facing criminal charges. Similarly, opinion was divided about bringing in the BSP members who had prima facie violated the Anti Defection Act. In fact, even on Friday morning, party veteran Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke against the move.

Political observers now expect more trouble over portfolio allocation. The defectors may now pressurise the CM for the ''right portfolios''.

Kalyan Singh has another daunting on hand, and he has already rushed back to New Delhi for a second round of discussion with his party bosses.

"Whether he will reshuffle the portfolios of some of his ministers who had developed proximity to Mayawati also remains to be seen," observers say.

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