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October 13, 1999


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The Vajpayee cabinet: All old timers minus one

Following are brief profiles of the prime minister and his cabinet colleagues:

Atal Bihari Vajpayee:

Atal Bihari Vajpayee begins his third stint as prime minister on terra firma unlike on the previous two occasions.

The first government the poet-politician headed after the 1996 Lok Sabha elections lasted barely 13 days and the second one in 1998 just 13 months. Some may consider 13 as a bad omen. Vajpayee does not. He chose this day today to be sworn in as the head of the National Democratic Alliance government.

Vajpayee, a man of consensus who over the years has become a Gandhian socialist and represents the moderate face of Hindutva, is faced with the problem of keeping under check an ever-burgeoning fiscal deficit, accentuated by the Kargil conflict.

The 75-year-old bachelor has said that he is willing to take hard decisions but would like to take all sections of society along in the task of nation building.

Vajpayee virtually disapproved of his senior party colleague L K Advani's controversial rath yatra in 1990 and minced no words in Parliament in criticising the December 1992 demolition of the Babri mosque.

His desire to keep contentious issues on the backburner came out clear and loud in his reply in the Lok Sabha on May 28, 1996 to the debate on his confidence motion (which, however, was not put to vote because he announced before hand itself that he was proceeding to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to submit his government's resignation).

Vajpayee had said then that his party was ready to ''freeze'' its stand on the divisive issues of construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution and implementation of a uniform civil code in the interest of evolving a ''national consensus''.

Vajpayee was born in Gwalior on Christmas day (December 25), 1924. His father, Pandit Krishna Bihari Vajpayee was a school teacher and his grand father, Pandit Shyam Lal, a renowned Sanskrit scholar.

He had his education in Gwalior doing his Bachelor of Arts degree from Victoria College (now Lakshmibai College). Later, he went on to acquire a masters degree in political science from DAV College in Kanpur.

Then, he enrolled himself for a law degree, but did not complete the course. His father, who had just retired from service, got an admission in the law college along with his son. They were in the same hostel room and same class.

Vajpayee was attracted to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh at an early age and became an active member of the Arya Kumar Sabha.

In 1941, he joined the Indian National Congress and was jailed during the 1942 Quit India movement. His detractors have alleged that he had obtained his release from prison by tendering an apology.

In 1946, he was sent by the RSS to Sandila as a pracharak. After a few months, he was appointed as the first editor of the newspaper Rashtra Dharma in Lucknow. Later, when the RSS started its new organ, Panchajanya, Vajpayee moved over as its editor.

In subsequent years, he edited the weekly Chetna from Varanasi, Dainik Swadesh from Lucknow and Veer Arjun from Delhi.

Vajpayee had attracted the attention of leaders like Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya by his ability, intellectual prowess and speaking talent.

He was among the founder members of the Jan Sangh. He served as the private secretary to Dr Mukherjee.

Vajpayee had his first foray into electoral politics in 1955 when he contested the by-election for the Lucknow Lok Sabha seat vacated by Vijayalakshmi Pandit. He lost.

He entered Parliament first in 1957, winning the Balrampur Lok Sabha seat in Uttar Pradesh. He lost the seat to Subhadra Joshi of the Congress in 1962 but recaptured it in 1967. He won from Gwalior in 1971, New Delhi in 1977 and 1980 and Lucknow in 1991, 1996 and 1998.

He was member of the Rajya Sabha twice -- 1962-67 and 1986-89.

Vajpayee was the leader of the Jan Sangh Parliamentary Party from 1957 to 1977, president of the Jan Sangh from 1968-73 and founder president of the BJP created following the break-up of the Janata Party which had stormed to power on the anti-Emergency wave in 1977.

He was arrested during the Emergency along with Jayaprakash Narain and a large number of other opposition leaders. He remained in detention from 1975 to 1977. When the then prime minister Indira Gandhi announced the Lok Sabha elections in 1977 and lifted the Emergency, he played a key role in ensuring the merger of the Jan Sangh with the Janata Party.

Vajpayee held the external affairs portfolio in the Morarji Desai government. It was as the external affairs minister that he, belying the ''expectations'' from the member of a ''communal and reactionary'' outfit, took initiatives to improve relations with the neighbours, especially Pakistan.

He also created history by addressing the United Nations General Assembly in Hindi. Participating in the general debate, he drew the attention of the member-states to global economic issues, the need for a North-South dialogue, disarmament, West Asia and apartheid.

Vajpayee is well-known for his felicity with the spoken word, especially in Hindi. It is often said that his prose sounds like poetry.

He was conferred the Padma Vibhushan in 1992 in recognition of his services to the nation and the Gobind Ballabh Pant Award for best parliamentarian and the Lok Manya Tilak Puraskar (both in 1994).

His published works include Lok Sabha Mein Atalji'' (a collection of speeches) Mrityu ya Hatya, Amar Balidan, Kaidi Kavirai ki Kundalian (a collection of poems written in jail during Emergency) , New Dimensions of India's Foreign Policy (speeches delivered as external affairs minister during 1977-79), Jan Sangh aur Musalman, Three Decades in Parliament (speeches in three volumes), Amar Aag Hai (a collection of poems, 1994) and Meri Ekyavan Kavitayen .

Vajpayee has served on a number of important committees of Parliament. He was chairman, Committee on Government Assurances (1966-67), chairman, Public Accounts Committee (1967-70) member, General Purposes Committee (1986) and chairman, Standing Committee on External Affairs (1993-96).

He has also been a member of the National Integration Council from 1961.

L K Advani:

From a firebrand rathyatri in 1989 to the present-day elder statesman, Lal Krishna Advani has come a long way.

The eventful decade that began with the rath yatra to highlight the Hindutva agenda of building the Ram temple at Ayodhya, saw him steering the BJP from the fringes of national politics onto centrestage.

With great political acumen he has managed to avoid any impression of differences cropping up with a more moderate Vajpayee on several important national issues during his tenure as the home minister in the previous 13-month-old ministry.

In 1998, he had the onerous responsibility as the party president to bring the BJP to power by entering, for the first time, into regional pre-poll alliances.

Advani, who took over from Vajpayee as party president in 1986, had a two-term tenure till 1990. After an interregnum between 1990 to 1993 when Dr Murli Manohar Joshi took over, he assumed the leadership once again. He handed over the reins of the party to Khushabhau Thakre in May last year.

It was Advani who put the BJP on the Hindutva track after his predecessor tried for years to shed the Jan Sangh legacy to project BJP as a centerist alternative.

Born in Karachi on November 8, 1927, Advani had his schooling at St Patricks and later at D G National College, Hyderabad, Sind. Later, he sought admission in the NED Engineering College, Karachi but did not join the course. After Partition, he did his LLB at Bombay University.

He had not joined the engineering college mainly because he became involved in the work of the RSS. At the time of Partition, he was the secretary of the Karachi branch of the RSS.

After Partition, he came to Rajashtan to work as a RSS pracharak. In 1951, when the Jan Sangh was formed he joined it and was the unit secretary from 1952 to 1957.

In 1958, he shifted to Delhi and functioned as the unit secretary of the Jan Sangh there till 1963. It was during this time that Advani also worked as the secretary of the party's parliamentary group which was headed by Vajpayee. He joined the weekly Organiser as joint editor in 1960 and went on to assume the leadership of the Jan Sangh in the Rajya Sabha.

Yashwant Sinha:

Bureaucrat-turned-politician Yashwant Sinha may have lacked the flamboyance of his predecessors in the finance ministry -- P Chidambaram and Dr Manmohan Singh -- but he did a good job carrying the nation forward along the course set by them.

Now, he gets a second chance to push through what he has labelled ''the second generation of reforms'' besides coping with a burgeoning deficit and other problems which would necessarily call for some hard decisions.

He is considered a liberal in the BJP. Influenced by Jayaprakash Narayan's socialist movement of the mid-seventies, Sinha took to active politics and joined the Janata Dal in 1984 after resigning his post of joint secretary in the ministry of shipping and transport.

He was elected to the Rajya Sabha for the first time in 1988 and rose to prominence as a spokesman of the JD during the 1989 Lok Sabha elections. He made news when he walked out of the swearing-in ceremony, in a fit of pique, on being named a minister of state by V P Singh. He later became the finance minister in the Chandra Shekhar government.

Born in 1937 in Patna, Sinha joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1960 after a two-year stint as a lecturer in political science at Patna University, where he had studied. His first posting was at Santhal Parganas in South Bihar.

It was his meetings with Jayaprakash Narayan in the late 1960s and his tenures as principal secretary to two chief ministers of Bihar -- Karpoori Thakur of the Lok Dal and the Janata Party's Ram Sundar Dass -- that attracted him to politics.

Jaswant Singh:

The suave aristocrat Jaswant Singh was able to prove his mettle in the aftermath of the Kargil crisis when as the external affairs minister, he skilfully presented and convinced the United States about India's position.

Termed as a man for all seasons, he can prove invaluable to the new government for setting things right, for soothing tempers, be it of countries or leaders.

Even before becoming the external affairs minister, Jaswant Singh was the negotiator on behalf of the Indian government during talks with the US on security related issues after the nuclear explosions in Pokhran in May 1998.

His talks with US deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott centred primarily around ''India's nuclear status'' and New Delhi's stand on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Academically, he has been specialising in security matters for a long time and is considered an expert on defence matters. His previous stints in government include the post of finance minister in the 13-day government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1996 and as deputy chairman of the planning commission.

A former cavalry officer, Jaswant Singh left the army for the more exciting game of politics. He has been thrice elected to the Rajya Sabha, the first time in 1980 and has come to the Lok Sabha for the fourth time.

Born at Jasoi in Barmer district of Rajasthan in 1938, Singh was educated at the Mayo College, Ajmer before joining the National Defence Academy at Khadakvasla. Although he left the army, he has retained his interest in defence. He has been an active member of the Defence Services Institute, the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies and the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

George Fernandes:

After a stormy, controversial tenure as the defence minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet, the indefatigable George Fernandes gets yet another stint at the helm of affairs more so because of his political skills.

The minister's comments against China, the sacking of naval chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, the Kargil episode and its resulting controversies shadowed him throughout his tenure.

The nuclear tests at Pokhran, the testing of Agni-2, visits to forward areas, including the Siachen Glacier, and his sprucing up the bureaucratic setup within his ministry went to his credit. More importantly, Fernandes, as a representative of the non-BJP section of the coalition, provided a larger political space to the Vajpayee government and became its troubleshooter on several occasions.

A flamboyant iconoclast, trade unionist and Lohiaite socialist, the 69-year-old leader is coming into the central cabinet for the fourth time after making his debut as the communications and industry minister in 1977. He was the railways minister in 1989.

After training to become a priest, Fernandes moved to Bombay in 1950 and came into contact with veteran union leader D'Mello and then Ram Manohar Lohia, the ''greatest influence'' of his life.

Soon he began organising workers in various sectors and the highpoint of his trade union career came when he led the all India railway strike of 1974. When he was industry minister in the Janata regime of 1977, he banished Coca Cola from India.

Fernandes went underground during the Emergency and was nabbed in 1977 and tried in the famous Baroda dynamite case. After Emergency was lifted, he won the Muzaffarpur seat in Bihar by an over 300,000 vote margin despite his not even visiting the constituency.

He retained the seat in 1980, lost it four years later and regained it in 1989. His opposition to Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar led him to a strategic alliance with the BJP in the 1998 elections. During the last two elections he has been winning from the Nalanda seat in Bihar.


Despite several claimants to ministerial berths from the capital and his controversial stint in the communications ministry, Jagmohan once again finds a place in the A B Vajpayee government mainly for his administrative skills.

In the midst of the Lok Sabha elections, Jagmohan was shifted from the communications ministry and given the urban development portfolio apparently due to his opposition to the revenue-sharing telecom package for private operators.

But generating controversies is almost second nature to Jagmohan. As governor of Jammu and Kashmir twice during the Rajiv Gandhi and V P Singh regimes, Jagmohan evoked both admiration and criticism for his tough handling of militancy. He still prides in making the Vaishnodevi temple a major pilgrim centre with all facilities.

He is also famous for getting Delhi equipped for the 1982 Asian Games when he was its Lieutenant Governor and Indira Gandhi was the prime minister. During the Emergency, he launched a demolition drive against unauthorised structures, including slum colonies, as part of Sanjay Gandhi's Delhi beautification project.

Jagmohan also had a brief stint as Lt Governor of Goa, Diu and Dama

Murli Manohar Joshi:

Despite a controversy-ridden 13-month tenure as human resource development minister during which he came under fire for ''saffronising education'', Dr Murli Manohar Joshi is likely to retain his favourite portfolio in the Vajpayee cabinet.

A key figure in moulding the BJP's ideologies, programmes and policies, the 65-year-old professor of physics has become an inevitable member of any BJP cabinet for his political sagacity and insight.

Born on January 5, 1934 in Delhi, Dr Joshi has his roots in Almora, Uttar Pradesh. After studying in Delhi, Bijnor, Almora and Chandpur, he graduated from Meerut College and earned an M A degree from Allahabad University.

He later accepted a teaching assignment in his alma mater armed with a doctorate in spectroscopy and over 100 research papers. An ''organisational man,'' he had been leader of the youth wing of the erstwhile Bharatiya Jan Sangh and held positions in teachers' associations.

Jailed during the Emergency, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Almora and served as general secretary of the Janata Party's parliamentary wing. He became treasurer of the BJP in 1986 and was later appointed general secretary in charge of Bihar, Bengal and the northeastern states.

Dr Joshi, who took over the party reins from Lal Krishna Advani after the rath yatra, held the home portfolio during the 13-day tenure of the first BJP government.

Ananth Kumar:

Ananth Kumar, who is having his second stint as a cabinet minister in the Vajpayee government, is credited with giving a new direction to civil aviation during his earlier term by launching the privatisation and corporatisation process of the sector to make it internationally competitive.

The 40-year-old member of Parliament from Bangalore, a heavyweight in Karnataka BJP politics, says he has set a record of sorts by making operational the largest number of pending projects and launching new ones in the previous government.

Ananth Kumar, who created some controversy with regard to the moves to acquire the ATR-42 aircraft for Indian Airlines, drew accolades for his successful handling of the strike by air traffic controllers last year.

Elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1996, Ananth Kumar entered politics after participating in the JP movement against the Emergency in 1975-77. He was secretary of the Akila Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad -- the BJP's student wing -- Karnataka from 1982 to '85.

He was general secretary of the BJP, Karnataka from 1988 to 1995 and national secretary from then onwards.

After his first win from Bangalore South, Ananth Kumar was a member of the standing committee on industry and the consultative committee of the ministry of railways.

Fluent in Kannada, Telegu, Hindi and English, he is a good public speaker and also has some scientific accomplishments to his credit.

Pramod Mahajan:

Pramod Mahajan, despite his propensity to hog the headlines through controversial remarks, once again finds a berth in Vajpayee's new cabinet.

The ambitious go-getter from Bombay has always remained at the centre of action. Even after suffering a shock defeat in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, he sprang back and became the prime minister's political advisor with cabinet status. A few months later he became a member of the Rajya Sabha and was given the information and broadcasting portfolio.

Mahajan became the first minister to be designated as the official spokesman to brief the media on cabinet meetings. He stirred a hornet's nest by announcing that the Prasar Bharati (the Broadcasting Corporation of India) was not relevant when so many other channels are available and he would like to wind it up.

He plunged into politics in 1974 after completing his studies and doing a short stint in journalism. He joined the Jan Sangh and was with the Janata Party in 1977 when the Jan Sangh merged with it. He was jailed during the Emergency. When the BJP was formed, he joined it and rose rapidly to become the all India secretary in 1983 and was inducted as general secretary ten years later when L K Advani was the party president.

In 1995, when he was in charge of Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance won the assembly elections where his managerial skills were tested and proven.

He held the defence portfolio in the 13-day Vajpayee government in 1996.

Ram Naik:

Ram Naik is the only member of the previous Vajpayee ministry who has been elevated to the cabinet rank.

A seasoned parliamentarian, Naik held independent charge of the ministry of railways as a minister of state after Nitish Kumar resigned following the Gaisal accident.

He also handled home affairs and planning and programme implementation besides parliamentary affairs up to April last.

Naik, who represents north Bombay in the Lok Sabha, won for the fifth consecutive term in this election. He was also an MLA for three successive terms earlier.

The chief whip of the BJP in the last three Lok Sabhas, he was chairman of the public accounts committee in 1995-96 besides working in the joint parliamentary committee on the security scam.

A member of the BJP's national executive, he was also president of the party's Bombay unit for four terms.

Naik, who struggled with cancer which struck him in 1994, is a graduate in commerce and law. He began as an upper division clerk in the Maharashtra accountant general's office and also worked as a company secretary and management consultant before joining as a full time organising secretary of the erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh.

Sharad Yadav:

For giant-killer Sharad Yadav, who vanquished former Bihar chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav at Madhepura, this is the second stint in the Union cabinet, having served as a minister in the V P Singh government.

Born on October 1, 1947 in a farmers' family of modest means at Akhmau village in Hoshangabad district of Madhya Pradesh, he is an electronics engineering graduate from Jabalpur.

Inspired by the philosophy of Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, he participated in many mass movements. In 1974, he successfully contested a Lok Sabha by-election from Jabalpur as a joint opposition candidate. The very next year he quit the seat protesting against the ''dictatorial'' attitude of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He was arrested during the Emergency.

Yadav was re-elected in 1977. He became the national president of the Yuva Janata in 1980. After the split in the Janata Party in 1979, he became the national general secretary of the Lok Dal led by Choudhary Charan Singh.

He had played an active role in the formation of the Janata Dal in 1987-88. In the V P Singh government, he held the portfolio of textiles and food processing industries.

He was in the forefront of efforts to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations. He was elected from the Madhepura Lok Sabha constituency for the first time in 1991.

Yadav became working president of the Janata Dal in 1995 and was re-elected from Madhepura in 1996. He was elected Janata Dal president on July 6, 1997 defeating Laloo Prasad Yadav.

He allied with the BJP-led NDA after the Samata Party and Rama Krishna Hegde's Lok Shakti decided to merge with the Janata Dal. Subsequently, the Dal split when a section led by Deve Gowda protested against the alliance. Yadav is currently president of the Janata Dal-United.

Naveen Patnaik:

Naveen Patnaik, who joined active politics after the death of his illustrious father Biju Patnaik, has proved his mettle by not only keeping his Biju Janata Dal party intact but also maintaining his popularity with the voters to begin a second stint in the Vajpayee government.

An alumnus of the Doon School, Patnaik had entered the portals of Parliament for the first time, when he won a by-election from Aska to the eleventh Lok Sabha.

In the run-up to the 1998 general elections, he had parted ways with the JD and formed the BJD. At that time, in alliance with the BJP, he bagged 16 of the 21 Lok Sabha seats in Orissa.

That victory earned him a berth in the Union cabinet as steel and mines minister. Earlier, he was a member of the consultative committee of the ministry of steel and mines, the standing committee on commerce and the library committee of Parliament.

This time round, the alliance improved the position winning 19 seats. During the course of the past one year, Patnaik had also survived dissidence in the state unit of the party on the leadership issue.

Apart from his political skills, he is also an author having written three books dealing with Indian culture, history and the environment

Patnaik is a founder-member of the Indian Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. He has done pioneering work in Indian design, bringing it international recognition. He has also made a significant contribution to help handloom weavers enlarge home markets for Indian textiles.

T R Balu:

T R Balu, an industrialist, was Union minister of state for petroleum and natural gas in the United Front ministry.

Balu, 57, has been elected to the Lok Sabha for the third time.

He was Madras district secretary of the DMK and was active in the party's youth wing also.

A graduate, Balu was born at Thalikottai village near Mannargudi. He is married and has a son and two daughters.

Murasoli Maran:

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam ideologue and strategist Murasoli Maran, a nephew of party president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, had served as cabinet minister under three prime ministers -- V P Singh, H D Deve Gowda and I K Gujral.

A champion of economic liberalisation under the Gowda and the Gujral governments, Maran is credited with being the catalyst for foreign investments in India. However, he bitterly opposed Suzuki's control over Maruti Udyog Limited.

An astute parliamentarian, Maran was first elected to the Lok Sabha in 1967. Since then he has been a member of either of the two houses of Parliament.

He was re-elected to the Lok Sabha in 1996, '98 and '99.

He was imprisoned during the Emergency. He edited the DMK mouthpiece Murasoli for sometime.

Born to Shanmuga Sundaram at Thirukkuvalai in Thiruvaroor district in 1934, Maran is a post-graduate. He is married to Mallika and has two sons and a daughter.

Mamata Banerjee

If popularity and personal charisma are any yardstick for politicians, then the Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Baneerjee, who was sworn in as a cabinet minister today, has plenty of it.

Banerjee had contested the Lok Sabha polls for the sixth time. She was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1984 when she defeated CPI-M stalwart Somnath Chatterjee from Jadavpur constituency. She lost the Jadavpur seat to Malini Bhattacharyya of the CPI-M in 1989. She changed her constituency to Calcutta south in 1991 which has since then returned her victorious.

This is her second stint as the Union minister, the first time being in the Narasimha Rao government when she was given the ministry of sports and youth affairs under the HRD ministry. But she quit because she thought her home state needed her services.

It was because of her differences with the Bengal unit of the Congress that she floated the Trinamool Congress before the 1998 general elections, and made its debut by bagging seven seats.

A student of humanities, Mamata completed her masters from Calcutta University after completing her graduation from Jogomaya College in Calcutta.

Her simple lifestyle and strong contacts with the grassroot have made her a leader of the masses.


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