NATIONAL

Will Ajit Singh be out of Cabinet?

New Delhi May 22. The swearing-in ceremony for the new entrants to the Government is set for May 24 evening, when the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, will unveil his "reshuffled'' Cabinet. The return of Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress and Rajnath Singh of the BJP are deemed highly probable.

Mr. Vajpayee had prolonged consultations again with his ministerial and NDA colleagues this evening. The Deputy Prime Minister, L. K. Advani, the Finance Minister, Jaswant Singh, the BJP president, Venkaiah Naidu, and the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, participated in the discussions at Mr. Vajpayee's house.

The presence of Mr. Fernandes at the confabulation this evening suggests that Ms. Banerjee is insisting not only on her return but is also keen on dictating who from her party would be the second nominee in the Cabinet. Ms. Banerjee's somewhat estranged colleague Sudip Bandopadhyaya is keen on a berth. He had a meeting today with Mr. Advani and is believed to have made a case for his induction.

However, Ms. Banerjee is reported to be invoking the NDA convention that the party leader gets to decide which member from his/her party would find a place in the government. The Shiv Sena leader, Bal Thackeray, for example, has exercised rather aggressively this privilege, even if it meant a dilution of the Prime Minister's authority in hiring and firing Cabinet members. Ms. Banerjee is believed to have the silent support of Mr. Fernandes, NDA convener.

Sources close to Mr. Naidu continue to insist that the Agriculture Minister, Ajit Singh's departure from the Cabinet is certain. To off set any negative political repercussions in the event of Mr. Ajit Singh's departure, the BJP is pushing for the induction of Rajnath Singh. A Ministerial assignment for him should also find favour with the U.P. Chief Minister, Ms. Mayawati, who has been finding his continued involvement with U.P. politics rather trying.

The Prime Minister is reported to be still undecided on what to do with Mr. Ajit Singh.

The jury is still out on the Civil Aviation Minister, Syed Shahnawaz Hussain.

The solitary Muslim in the Union Cabinet is suddenly finding himself without friends and patrons, as the senior bureaucrats in his ministry have also joined the ranks of his detractors.

Mr. Vajpayee and his advisers had another problem this evening. The continuation of Gingee Ramachandran, Minister of State for Finance, was deemed untenable after one of his aides was arrested by the CBI. The Finance Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, would not be unhappy to see Mr. Ramachandran taken out of North Block.

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