Today's Paper

Mahajan may go, Shatrughan to be shifted

New Delhi Jan. 28. The Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, has scheduled a reshuffle of his Cabinet tomorrow. Though an entirely BJP-centric affair, the reshuffle is expected to be a comprehensive exercise. Indications are that the BJP general-secretary, Arun Jaitley, is all set to make a comeback in the Cabinet; whereas Pramod Mahajan, Communications Minister, is reported to be fighting a losing battle to retain his position in the Government. Jana Krishnamurthy, Law Minister, leaves and C.P. Thakur returns to the Cabinet The President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, would administer the oath of office to the new Ministers at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, soon after the end of the `Beating the Retreat' ceremony.

The decision to go ahead with a reshuffle was taken on Monday at a meeting at the Prime Minister's residence. Besides Mr. Vajpayee, the Deputy Prime Minister, Lal Krishna Advani, and the BJP party president, Venkaiah Naidu, also attended the confabulation. The Prime Minister and Mr. Advani are believed to have had further discussion when both happened to be in Gujarat today; later, on Mr. Advani's return to the capital, the BJP president held another round of consultation with him.

Unless Mr. Mahajan is able to bring considerable pressure to bear on the situation at the last- minute, he has been pencilled in for an organisational post. He is understood to have had an audience both with Mr. Naidu and Mr. Advani. And, still the decision to draft him for organisational responsibilities remains unchanged as of late tonight.

In the event of Mr. Mahajan shouldering party responsibilities, his job as the Parliamentary Affairs Minister is likely to be assigned to Sushma Swaraj. She may get the additional charge of the Ministry of Health Affairs, as the incumbent, Shatrughan Sinha, has run out of friends and patrons who could help him retain the prestigious portfolio. Mr. Sinha may find himself shifted to a less crucial job. Not only is Mr. Jaitley's return to the Cabinet certain, he expects to have heaps of portfolios on his ministerial plate. Besides getting charge of Law Ministry, he is understood to have asked — and has been granted — for the return of the crucial department of Company Affairs to the Ministry. Moreover, indications are that he may be asked to handle Communications and Information Technology Departments.

Ms. Swaraj's current Ministry, Information and Broadcasting, may be given to Ravi Shanker Prasad, in the rank of Minister of State with independent charge. At the same time, two Ministers of State from the Bihar quota, Nikhil Chaudhary and Rita Verma, are slated for the chopping block. Also entered in the resignation column are Uma Bharti, Vijayraje Scindia and Raman Singh (who had already resigned but whose resignation has not been accepted). The three are assigned party responsibilities, respectively, in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the three States scheduled to go for Assembly elections later this year.

It is believed that finally the former Gujarat Chief Minister, Keshubhai Patel, is not being offered a Cabinet post; instead, Gujarat is likely to be represented either by Bhavanaben Chikalia or Dilip Singhania. Mr. Vajpayee and his advisers have, for now, put two non-BJP ministerial aspirants, Mamata Banerjee and Farooq Abdullah, on hold.

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