Mahajan, Jaitley trade places; Swaraj may move to parliamentary affairs

NEW DELHI: In a development that is likely to significantly impact the media sector, information technology, communications and parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan resigned from his post tonight. He is set to take charge as party general secretary.

The move comes just ahead of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's cabinet reshuffle slated for tomorrow. As per the information available from political sources, Mahajan will be swapping places with the current incumbent, former information and broadcasting (I&B) minister Arun Jaitley whose most recent portfolio was as Union law minister.

Rumours were flying amidst the thick air of intense political activity in the capital. There was strong speculation that I&B minister Swaraj was being shifted to parliamentary affairs. Minister of state for coals and mines Ravi Shankar Prasad was reportedly coming in to occupy Shastri Bhavan. Prasad, who is the brother-in-law of journalist turned Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Shukla, was however, not expected to get cabinet rank. The political grape vine has it that he would be made minister of state for I&B with independent charge.

Mahajan's move to direct party activities is seen as a clear signal that the BJP has set its sights on the upcoming state elections as well as looking ahead to the general elections due in 2004. Mahajan is one of the ruling party's principal fund raisers.

Mahajan's departure from the cabinet puts a question mark on the long stagnating communications convergence bill of which he was a big votary. How Mahajan's expected replacement for this portfolio, Jaitley feels about the Bill that many have said is unworkable in its present form, should be worth watching.

Some observers also say that the case of Star India's application for uplinking for its Star News channel may get a shot in the arm with this development. This is because it was only Mahajan's ministry that had yet to give its comment on the note forwarded to it on the matter by I&B minister Sushma Swaraj. It is only after all the concerned ministries have given their comments the proposal can be put before the cabinet for further action.

Of course all this would be turned on its head if Swaraj also moves out of Shastri Bhavan. Then it all becomes totally unpredictable.

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