A large contingent

Print edition : December 11, 1999

PRIME Minister A.B. Vajpayee's Council of Ministers is the largest ever for a Union Government. Yet, at 74 it falls short of the size recommended by the Administrative Reforms Commission in the 1960s - 11 per cent of the combined strength of the two Hous es of Parliament.

When a 70-member Ministry was sworn in on October 13, it was assumed that Vajpayee wanted to have as big a Council of Ministers as possible in order to avoid pressures for further expansion. But when he inducted three Cabinet Ministers and one Minister o f State with independent charge on November 22, apart from effecting a minor reshuffle, it was dictated by corrective as well as electoral factors.

The inclusion of Shukhdev Singh Dhindsa, the Akali Dal Rajya Sabha member, as Minister for Works and Estates, was dictated by the compulsions of coalition chemistry. The absence of representation to the Sikh community in the Ministry had irked the Akali Dal, a key ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Akali Dal had won two Lok Sabha seats. Its entry into the Ministry was out of question as it did not have the minimum of six seats needed to claim a berth. The party missed the "chemistry" quota too owin g to bickerings among its senior leaders about who should get a berth. Dhindsa's inclusion, which followed a process of reconciliation within the party leadership, was a corrective step, taken in order to assuage the feelings of the party and Sikhs in ge neral.

The inclusion of Rajnath Singh, Rajya Sabha member and Uttar Pradesh BJP president, as the Cabinet Minister in charge of Surface Transport, was a foregone conclusion. The BJP wanted to reward him for having accepted the high command's nominee, Ram Prakas h Gupta, as Chief Minister. Rajnath Singh had projected himself as the candidate for chief ministership in the place of Kalyan Singh. Another factor behind Rajnath Singh's entry into the Cabinet is the long-time grievance of the forward community of the State of neglect shown towards it during the tenure of Kalyan Singh. As part of a post-Kalyan Singh package, Rajnath Singh's induction was also a corrective measure. Nitish Kumar, who was earlier allotted the Surface Transport portfolio, has got Agricult ure.

The inclusion of C.P. Thakur, the BJP MP from Patna who is a Bhumihar, was also done with a view to correcting a perceived imbalance in the representation of various castes from Bihar. Bihar, which has the largest contingent in the Ministry, has been sho wered with favours in view of the coming Assembly elections. C.P. Thakur is the Cabinet Minister for Water Resources.

The BJP's Rajya Sabha MP, Arun Shourie, is now Minister of State for Planning, Statistics and Programme Implementation. He will also be in charge of the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grie vances and Pensions, which is headed by the Prime Minister. Shourie seems to have been deliberately kept out of Personnel, considering his past crusade against corruption. The Department of Personnel has under it the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) . The Home Ministry has a role only in the case of Indian Police Service (IPS) officers. Vasundhara Raje assists the Prime Minister in the Department of Personnel and Training. Shourie had a major role in drafting the party's manifesto, and his induction from the BJP's quota is a sign that the party wants to be seen as recognising talent.

In addition to the Parliamentary Affairs portfolio, Pramod Mahajan has been allotted the newly formed Ministry of Information Technology, the relevance of which is being widely debated in industry circles. Satyanarayan Jatia is the new Labour Minister.

Minor changes have been effected in the portfolios of six Ministers of State. Significant among them is the shifting of Bangaru Laxman from Planning and Implementation to Railways. Mamata Banerjee, the Railway Minister, now has two Ministers of State in her Ministry. This has caused her disappointment, although she denied that she had expressed unhappiness over the reshuffle.

The allocation of portfolios suggests a deliberate move to have at least one BJP Minister of State in the Ministries headed by the alliance parties.

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