Day ahead of cabinet oath-taking, berth pangs continue (Lead)

May 21st, 2009 - 8:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, May 21 (IANS) Twenty-four hours ahead of the swearing-in of Manmohan Singh as the prime minister for a second consecutive term with his team of ministers, the Congress was engaged Thursday in hectic parleys with its key coalition partners, the DMK and the Trinamool Congress, over allocation of ministerial berths to them.
While the party, which has got as many as 206 seats, is expected to retain all the top five cabinet posts including finance, home, external affairs, defence and commerce, the allies were negotiating for as many ministerial berths as possible.

The DMK, which won 18 seats in Tamil Nadu, has reportedly sought five berths, including four cabinet portfolios, besides pitching its leader T. R. Baalu for the speaker’s post. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) with 19 MPs is keen on getting half a dozen positions and its leader Mamata Banerjee was almost certain to land the railway ministry, a portfolio she had earlier. The party was also angling for the coals and mines portfolio.

Within the Congress, senior leaders Kapil Sibal, Kamal Nath and Salman Khurshid were in the running to get the prestigious external affairs ministry while Sibal, an MP from Chandni Chowk, was learnt to be keen on human resources development (HRD).

Arjun Singh, a Rajya Sabha member, and HRD minister in the outgoing government is not likely to find a place in the council of ministers, informed sources claimed.

Since the party could not arrive at a consensus with its allies, Manmohan Singh had to put off his meeting with President Pratibha Patil Thursday morning on government formation.

Once the list of council of ministers has been sorted out, the prime minister is expected to call on Patil.

Highly placed sources told IANS that DMK chief M. Karunanidhi’s wish list included minsterial posts for his son M.K. Azhagiri, daughter Kanimozhi, grand nephew Dayanidhi Maran and Helen Davidson, the only woman elected from Tamil Nadu in the just-concluded Lok Sabha polls.

The DMK is making a bid for key ministries including surface transport, railways, IT and communications and tourism.

Veteran Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee, who is holding negotiations with the DMK, had a “lengthy session” with Karunanidhi in the day and was expected to hold another session with him to firm up the ministerial berths.

Party insiders said Dinesh Trivedi, Sudip Bandopadhyay, Sultan Ahmed and Mukul Roy of the TMC are likely to become ministers. With 19 seats, the TC is now the UPA’s second largest member after Congress.

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) with nine seats is hopeful of retaining the agriculture and civil aviation ministries but is reportedly not averse to be given the power ministry in the event of civil aviation being handed over to the TMC.

The UPA has the support of 322 MPs, including the 48 MPs from the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) lending external support.

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