Six portfolios announced, talks with DMK continue (Second Lead)

May 23rd, 2009 - 5:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, May 23 (IANS) Former Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna was appointed the new external affairs minister while Pranab Mukherjee returned as India’s finance minister after 25 years as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday allocated portfolios to six senior colleagues in his new cabinet.
P. Chidambaram and A.K. Antony retained their home and defence ministries respectively, according to a statement from President Pratibha Patil’s office. Chidambaram had taken charge of the home ministry after the audacious terror attack on Mumbai in November last year.

From among the two allies now in the multi-party government, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is the new minister of railways. With 19 MPs, the Trinamool is the second largest party in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) after the Congress.

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar, the seniormost politician in the government after Mukherjee, got to keep his ministries of agriculture, food and civil supplies as well as public distribution and consumer affairs.

According to an official announcement, Manmohan Singh will look after all other ministries until more ministers are inducted into what will be a three-tier ministry.

According to officials in the Prime Minister’s Office, the portfolios of the remaining 13 of the 19 ministers who were sworn in on Friday would be announced shortly once differences with its southern ally, the DMK, over allocation of ministerial berths was sorted out.

“We hope to sort out the differences over the weekend so that the remaining ministers can be inducted in the second round by Tuesday,” a senior minister told IANS.

Party insiders told IANS that the prime minister was not averse to inducting both A. Raja and T.R. Baalu in the union cabinet but was insistent that neither would get the telecommunications and shipping ministries.

With the Congress standing firm and not giving in to DMK pressure, a miffed M.K. Karunanidhi, the DMK leader and Tamil Nadu chief minister, flew back to Chennai Friday morning giving the swearing in a miss.

The DMK, which was initially seeking seven ministerial berths, had apparently climbed down from their earlier demand, said sources.

The Congress maintained there were no differences with the DMK and was hopeful that it would be part of the government.

“This is pure speculation. DMK is our pre-poll ally and it is definitely an important partner of the Congress in government formation,”,” said Ghulam Nabi Azad, union minister and Congress general secretary in charge of Tamil Nadu, when asked about reported differences between both parties.

Around the same time, Karunanidhi issued a statement in Chennai, saying that the party would hold further discussions before responding to the offer made by the prime minister. However, the statement did not mention any time frame by which the decision would be taken.

Earlier Manmohan Singh began his first full working day in office in his second five-year term at the head of a Congress-led coalition government where it was decided that the first session of the 15th Lok Sabha will begin June 1.

The cabinet, which met at the prime minister’s residence, decided that the newly elected members of the Lok Sabha would be sworn in June 1 and 2 while the speaker of the house would be elected June 3.

President Pratibha Patil will address the joint session of parliament June 4 that would be followed by a debate and the motion of thanks.

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