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May 14, 2002 | 1140 IST
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Reshuffle on, no decision on Sinha

BS Political Bureau

Although Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will be reshuffling his Cabinet before the month is out, no final decision has been taken yet on the removal of Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha.

"I can tell you that at this moment we have taken no such decision," a senior government functionary said when asked about the possibility of Sinha losing his portfolio.

Sources said any such decision would be preceded by a discussion of Vajpayee and Union Home Minister L K Advani with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leaders.

"But what is certain is that the shake-up in the government will not be nominal," sources said.

The BJP's national executive had outlined certain measures in Goa, including shifting younger leaders from the government to the party to boost morale after successive electoral defeats.

The finance minister has been facing the heat after the BJP's debacle in the Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Punjab Assembly elections. The BJP's defeat in Delhi's municipal polls was attributed to the Budget.

Sinha's economic policies came in for criticism at various forums in the party and there were apprehensions even before the Goa meeting that Sinha might have to go.

But Vajpayee came to Sinha's rescue at Goa and defended his economic policies. The BJP's resolution passed at Goa endorsed the government's economic policies and rubbished allegations that Sinha's Budget alone was responsible for the poll debacle.

Drafts prepared by the party's economic cell were diluted and criticism of Sinha was excised and replaced by milder counsel to the finance minister.

Uncertainty about Sinha's future is a regular feature of every reshuffle. Only last year, Sinha is believed to have conveyed to his party bosses that he wanted to quit as finance minister. He was persuaded to give up the idea by Advani.

However, there is no let-up in attacks by the Sangh Parivar's swadeshi faction against Vajpayee and Sinha. Only recently, the founder of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and RSS leader Dattopant Thengdi described Sinha as an agent of the World Bank.

Against this backdrop, there is intense speculation about Sinha's fate in this reshuffle.

But none of those who are being named as Sinha's replacement - Divestment Minister Arun Shourie, RBI Governor Bimal Jalan or Andhra Pradesh Governor C Rangrajan - is particularly close to the RSS.

The idea mooted by Advani to shift Sinha to the party is understood to have been shot down by the Prime Minister and the Sangh Parivar.

Sources said with Jana Krishnamurthy remaining the BJP president, it would be highly unlikely that the young Turks in the government-Pramod Mahajan, Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar-would be inclined to serve the party.

Even in the top echelons of the Sangh Parivar, there is unanimity that the government's improved image alone can save the BJP. Performance will be the only criterion for reward in this reshuffle.

Highly placed sources in the government feel the reshuffle will have to serve as demonstrative action after the Goa national executive.

"The size of the government has to be pruned to make it appear more effective," a senior leader said, adding that the shake-up would see the ouster of those who were incompetent and irrelevant. "A tentative list of such ministers has been drawn up," he said.

The sources clarified that the pruning of the Union council of ministers would cover the allies as well. "This exercise will not be aimed at only the BJP," said sources.

Obviously, ministers from the alliance parties who created hurdles in the government's functioning may be either dropped or given some other assignment.

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