Manmohan hits home stretch, to take oath as PM Friday (Intro Roundup)

May 20th, 2009 - 10:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, May 20 (IANS) Amid jockeying for ministerial positions from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) constituents, the decks were Wednesday cleared for Manmohan Singh’s second consecutive term as prime minister with President Pratibha Patil formally inviting him to head the next government.
Armed with the support of 322 MPs, including those of the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi met the president at Rashtrapati Bhavan Wednesday evening to stake claim to form government.

The oath-taking ceremony of the new UPA government will be held Friday, May 22.

The council of ministers is likely to be dominated by the Congress, that is expected to keep the key cabinet portfolios, after the party’s election sweep. The outgoing council of ministers had 78 members comprising 30 cabinet ministers, eight ministers of state with independent charge and 40 ministers of state or junior ministers.

Sonia Gandhi, who in the morning was re-elected as chairperson of the UPA, said she handed over a letter to the president “stating that the leader of the parliamentary party to head the government is Dr. Manmohan Singh”.

After a short meeting lasting no more than 10 minutes, Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh addressed reporters at the forecourt of the presidential palace.

Detailing how the numbers stacked up to give the UPA a comfortable majority in the 545-member Lok Sabha, Manmohan Singh said: “We have 274 members who are part of the Congress and pre-poll alliance, also including four independents. The total number adds up to 274.”

Besides, he said, they had the support of 48 MPs from the SP, BSP and RJD, taking the total to 322.

With support letters in their pockets, the Congress leadership now has to deal with the knotty issue of distributing ministerial berths to allies like the DMK and the Trinamool Congress.

Speculation persisted over whether RJD chief Lalu Prasad would retain the key railways portfolio because of sharply divergent views in the Congress.

It is learnt that the railways portfolio is being sought both by the DMK and the Trinamool Congress, whose chief Mamata Banerjee has held it earlier.

DMK leader and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, who has been camping in the capital for the last two days and met veteran Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee, is lobbying for at least six ministerial berths, said a Congress insider.

The core group of the Congress is expected to firm up the composition of the council of ministers in the next two days, he said. Several senior ministers in the earlier dispensation, like Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Defence Minister A.K. Antony, are expected to continue in their ministries.

Subodh Kant Sahay of the Congress, who won from Jharkhand capital Ranchi, is strongly expected to retain a ministerial berth, according to sources.

Congress spokesperson Janardhan Dwivedi added the final composition of the council of ministers would be decided after “individual discussions” between Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.

“A decision on names from other parties will be taken after consulting the concerned party.”

All the UPA partners had met at Sonia Gandhi’s 10 Janpath residence in the morning to discuss details of government formation and endorse her as UPA chairperson.

Among those who attended the UPA meeting from the Congress were Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram, A.K. Antony and general secretary Rahul Gandhi.

The other members of the Congress-led grouping there in full strength included Karunanidhi with grandnephew Dayanidhi Maran, Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel and National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah. Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh, who switched over to UPA after the elections.

“We discussed about state and national matters. I said there should be a common minimum agenda and committees should be formed so that the concerns of all parties are addressed. This will help in good governance,” said Banerjee, who with 19 seats is the UPA’s largest ally.

National Conference patron Farooq Abdullah and NCP chief Sharad Pawar also brought up the issue of a common minimum programme. Abdullah said his party was not interested in ministerial berths at all.

“We have given our unconditional support. The National Conference is an ally of the UPA and hopes to remain an ally of the UPA,” Abdullah told a television channel.

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