Speculation rife that Mahajan to replace Swaraj as I&B minister

Speculation is rife in the Capital that in the impending reshuffle of the Union Cabinet which Prime Minister AB Vajpayee is slated to undertake over the weekend to be announced around 1 July, information and broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj may be relieved of her present responsibilities and entrusted with new work.

I&B minister Sushma Swaraj. Is she in or out? Political sources told that the front-runner for the I&B minister's post is information technology, telecommunications and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan. 

"But if Mahajan is given the additional responsibility of I&B ministry also, which will translate into a true "convergence ministry" of sorts, then he is likely to shed the parliamentary affairs portfolio," a political source close to the Prime Minister said.

Though Mahajan has held the I&B portfolio earlier too, but if Swaraj exits from the present ministry to take up party work or other responsibilities, then the fate of several issues relating to media will become unknown. 

In the forefront is the issue of conditional access system (CAS) that Swaraj had been pushing through opposing legislators and political rivals passionately.

The Bill relating to the amendments to the Cable TV (Networks) Regulation Act 1995, which will pave the way for final implementation of CAS in phases in the country, has been passed by Lok Sabha (the Lower House of Indian Parliament). But awaits the Rajya Sabha's (Upper House) okay that was earlier expected during the monsoon session of Parliament, beginning 15 July.

IT, telecommunications and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan. Eyeing the I&B portfolio as well?

"If in the reshuffle Mrs Swaraj is shunted out of the I&B ministry (which as a stand alone ministry has been steadily losing its relevance in the era of convergence being piloted by the telecom sector), then the CAS issue may be buried and forgotten," said an independent cable operator in New Delhi.

It is well known that amongst those few who had raised their voices against CAS is Mahajan.

Political sources also say that in private, of late, Swaraj has been "thinking aloud that the human resources development ministry" would not be a bad place for her to go after the I&B ministry.

" But if wishes were horses then the politicians would be on them instead of zipping around in their air-conditioned cars on the busy roads of the capital.

Points out a political editor of a Calcutta-based newspaper: "Swaraj may want something, but whether that fits in with the gameplan of the Prime Minister is the big question." 

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