A reshuffle of the Union Cabinet appears likely today, but the occasion may also see the elevation of Rahul Gandhi to the No. 2 position in the ruling Congress party. A CVC meeting has just got underway at Sonia Gandhi‘s residence, and issues including the cabinet reshuffle, Rahul Gandhi‘s elevation and the issue of Telangana are widely expected to be taken up for discussion.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday evening first added fuel to the speculative fire about an imminent reshuffle, and intensified lobbying among the aspirants, mostly within the Congress. The resignation of six Trinamool Congress ministers, and the fact that there are four other clear vacancies, has left the field wide open for aspirants to slug it out for what could be the last chance in the term of this Parliament to get a ministerial seat.
The puzzle around the nature and position of Rahul Gandhi’s acceptance of a “bigger role” seems to have been solved. But his formal elevation to a position of greater eminence in the Congress may take place only after a new-look Union Cabinet is in place. Sources said that Rahul Gandhi would prefer to concentrate on rebuilding the Congress organisational structure – rather than join the government in a Ministerial capacity. A new position will be created for him in the Congress party to officially signify his position as No. 2. He could be designated Vice-President or Secretary-General.
A number of Cabinet portfolios are begging to be filled, particularly after the exit of the Trinamool Congress Ministers.
For now, Surface Transport Minister CP Joshi has been given additional charge of Railways, but it will need a Minister of its own. The Congress, which has taken back the Ministry after a gap of 16 years, will likely hold on to it. Initially, it was believed that the Prime Minister would keep the ministry with himself for a while. Subsequently, there was chatter in UPA circles that Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh could get the portfolio, but that was spiked by the surprise announcement that Joshi would hold it for now.
The big four ministries—Home, Finance, External Affairs and Defence—are likely to be untouched. There were reports that the leadership was not entirely happy with SM Krishna’s handling of the External Affairs Ministry, but so far there has been no indication that he will be shifted.
The DMK has been asked to recommend two names to fill the vacancies in its “ministerial quota” arising from the exit of A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran, but sources said that DMK chief M Karunanidhi was dragging his feet. There is a feeling within a section of the DMK that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister (and the DMK’s arch rival) Jayalalitha may go on the political offensive against the DMK if two more of its ministers join the discredited UPA government. Even so, the Congress and a section of the DMK are hoping to persuade Karunanidhi.
The biggest beneficiaries in the upcoming reshuffle will be Congress leaders from West Bengal: Trinamool’s exit from the government and Pranab Mukherjee’s elevation to the Rashtrapati Bhavan means there is no representation from the State, an aberration that will have to be remedied. Deepa Dasmunsi, Pradip Bhattacharya and Abu Hasan Khan Chaudhary could be the benefiaries; Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury is also in the contention.
The fate of Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahai, who was ensnared in the Coalgate controversy, and of Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal will be keenly watched. Sahai is the only minister from Jharkhand – which might be cited as an alibi to keep him on. But Jaiswal could be given another portfolio. Agatha Sangma of the NCP will likely get the axe, and perhaps be replaced by Tariq Anwar, who is expected to get independent charge as a Minister of State.
Four ministers are currently holding dual charge: Kapil Sibal (Human Resource and Telecom); Veerappa Moily (Power and Corporate Affairs); Vaylar Ravi (Overseas Affairs and Science & Technology); and CP Joshi (Surface Transport & Railways). The vacancies created by the death of Vilasrao Deshmukh and the resignation of Gurdas Kamat (both of them from Maharastra) have also to be filled.
There is a possibility that Congress general secretary Janaradhan Dwivedi will get a Cabinet berth. Former Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha K Rehman Khan and party spokesman Manish Tiwari could also get in.
Some Ministers of State, including Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasada, Srikant Jena and Harish Rawat, are likely to be elevated. The first three named represent the younger brigade in the Congress and are part of Rahul Gandhi’s team. Jena and Rawat have been sulking for long that they deserved to be more than Ministers of State, given their seniority.