Sena Ministers neither here nor there

MUMBAI, JULY 20. Though the resignations of the three Shiv Sena members in the Union Cabinet - Mr. Manohar Joshi, Mr. Suresh Prabhu and Mr. Balasahib Vikhe-Patil - were rejected by the Prime Minister, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee, within hours of their submission on Wednesday, they have not returned to their posts. Sources say they were ``not functioning as Ministers''.

The intention apparently is to put the BJP-led Government in the pressure cooker till it decides to intervene in the ``crisis'' in Maharashtra where a resolute Democratic Front Government is continuing to tighten the screws on the Shiv Sena chief, Mr. Bal Thackeray. None of the three will function as a Minister, sign any official paper nor attend to Cabinet work.

They would resume ministerial work only when their boss, Mr. Bal Thackeray, asks them to so. Till then ``they are neither there, nor here,'' but ``happy to make the sacrifice in the interests of the boss''.

It is apparent that the trio would return to their jobs only when the Thackeray issue is resolved according to the Sena's script. The Sena has also made it clear that its support for the NDA continues and it was part of that formation. ``As of today, it has not been decided to opt out of the NDA,'' a top Sena source told The Hindu. While the Sena is resolute that their chief ``shall not be touched by the Chhagan Bhujbal campaign to have him put in a lock up'', Mr. Thackeray is adamant that he shall not seek anticipatory bail. At a late-night meeting with his aides, including lawyers, he said that even if the magistrate offered him a bail he would reject it.