Speculation as formation of cabinet process begins

May 17th, 2009 - 7:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, May 17 (IANS) Hours after it became clear that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) will get another term in office, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh got down to the business of planning his new cabinet from a wider, and perhaps, better choice of MPs without being constrained by alliance pressures.
In 2004, when Manmohan Singh became prime minister for the first time, a 67-member council of ministers was sworn in. At that time there were 28 cabinet ministers, including 18 from the Congress, and 39 ministers of state, 10 of them with independent charge. The UPA then comprised 13 allies.

But this time with the Congress alone cornering 206 seats - 61 more than in 2004 - many of its party MPs would find place in the council of ministers, though it would have to accommodate its key allies who put up a good show, including the Trinamool Congress, the DMK and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

The party would also have to take a call on whether it wants to retain Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in the cabinet, specifically people like Lalu Prasad, and give him the important railway portfolio when the Congress can really do without that party’s support. The RJD has won only four seats in Bihar.

P. Chidambaram, Pranab Mukherjee and A.K. Antony are likely to retain their home, foreign and defence portfolios while Kapil Sibal and Kamal Nath may find themselves allocated different cabinet positions as consultations begin over the composition of the next cabinet that is expected to be sworn in Wednesday, Congress sources said here Sunday.

Montek Singh Ahluwalia, whose name has been tossed around as finance minister, will in all likelihood stay as deputy chairman of the Planning Commission with former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor C. Rangarajan, who is known to be close to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, being inducted into government.

Rangarajan has played a key role both as an academic and a policy maker. The former chairman of the government’s Economic Advisory Council is also a Rajya Sabha member.

With India on its way to becoming a member of the Financial Stability Forum and the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision - global institutions that were earlier the bastion of G8 countries - a finance minister who understands the workings of these institutions will be ideal, say industry sources.

According to party insiders, if Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi gives the nod - people who know him aver that he is no hurry to join the government - he is likely to be made a minister of state in a ministry in which he can pursue issues that are close to his developmental agenda like the rural development or panchayati raj ministry.

The latter will need a minister as Mani Shankar Aiyar, who was the panchayati raj minister in the outgoing cabinet, lost the election.

“If Rahul is going to be groomed as prime minister, this will be the best place for him to start as he will be in the know of the workings of the government,” said a senior bureaucrat.

Even if Pranab Mukherjee remains as external affairs minister, there will be plenty of choices for his minister of state. Anand Sharma, the present minister of state who also holds dual charge of information and broadcasting, is likely to be promoted to cabinet rank and hold independent charge of the important ministry.

Among those who can become minister of state for external affairs are Shashi Tharoor, who won from Thiruvanathapuram, Salman Khurshid and Salim Sherwani, both of whom won from Uttar Pradesh and who have both served as minister of state in previous governments.

There is also talk of Tharoor, who contested for the post of UN secretary general but lost, being made a cabinet minister with charge of the overseas Indian affairs ministry (MOIA).

Vayalar Ravi, who is MOIA minister as well as parliamentary affairs minister, may retain his parliamentary affairs portfolio and also take charge of another important ministry in keeping with his seniority.

The names of M.K. Azhagiri, the elder son of DMK chief M. Karunanidhi, Dayanidhi Maran and T.R. Balu figure prominently among the DMK names for ministerial berths while Mamata Banerjee, Dinesh Trivedi, Saugata Ray and Sudip Bandhopadhyay from the Trinamool Congress are being backed by that party to join the cabinet.

Like in the earlier dispensation, both Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel of the NCP are likely to make a comeback.

Other Congress MPs who will be rewarded for the party’s good showing will be Jairam Ramesh and Digvijay Singh. An omission this time could be the ailing Arjun Singh, who was human resource development minister. Virbhadra Singh, a five-time Himachal Pradesh chief minister, stands a strong chance given his seniority in the party.

According to party insiders, amongst the ‘youth brigade’ likely to figure in the council of ministers are Jyotiraditya Scindia, Milind Deora, Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasada and Sandeep Dikshit.

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