Reshuffle: Drastic overhaul on cards for Congress, govt

The resignation of SM Krishna as External Affairs Minister is an indicator that the proposed Union Cabinet reshuffle, expected to take place on Sunday morning, could be an elaborate affair.

He had, after all, been part of the 'Big Four' ministers in the government and not been shown the door despite being more in news for his goof ups abroad and in Parliament and his indifferent show as the leader of such a crucial portfolio.

Another senior minister, Ambika Soni, met Congress president Sonia Gandhi at 5 pm just before she left for 7 Race Course Road to have an hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This is being read as Soni's inclination to move to some important assignment in the organisation.

There are enough indications that both the government and the party could go for a drastic overhaul. Reuters

Social Justice Minister Mukul Wasnik too met Sonia. There are speculations that Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh could also leave the government and opt for organisational roles.

There are enough indications that both the government and the party could go for a drastic overhaul to send a message to the public at large that both mean business.

A reshuffle in the Union Cabinet would be followed by an organisational revamp where Rahul Gandhi will be formally anointed as the number two in  Congress. Party general secretary Digvijay Singh, considered close to him, has dropped enough hints in the past that instead of joining the government at this stage he would prefer to concentrate on rebuilding the organisational structure.

Though there is no clarity on nomenclature yet, sources said a new position would be created for him in the Congress to officially signify his elevated position. He could either be a working president, vice-president or secretary general.

The reshuffle would also bear his stamp with elevation of some younger leaders like Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Milind Deora and induction of same new youthful faces in the council of ministers.

The fate of the two ministers who brought some embarrassment to the government in Coal scam on charges of misconduct, Sriprakash Jaiswal and Subodh Kant Sahai, hangs in balance.

"A ministerial position is not all that important to me. What is important to me is that I am from Ranchi (Jharkhand capital) and shall always ever be for Ranchi," is what Sahai said. This is being interpreted as Sahai is already getting a wrong signal from the leadership.

The big question is who would replace Krishna in the coveted external affairs ministry. The names of Kapil Sibal, Anand Sharma and Salman Khursheed have been doing the rounds. Khursheed who had recently been in the centre of a huge controversy seems to have got a reprieve from the party high command.

Dr Zakir Hussain Memorial Trust run by him and his wife Louise was accused of misappropriating funds for the physically challenged. Khursheed and Sharma have previous experience in the ministry as minister of state. However, Sibal enjoys the confidence of the Prime Minister.

The exit of six Trinamool Congress ministers and four from other parties has created many vacancies and competition in the Congress for ministerial berths is hotting up.

Though Surface Transport Minister CP Joshi has been given additional charge of Railways, there are still a good number of hopefuls. The Congress party will retain the ministry with it, which returns to it after a gap of 16 years.

The biggest beneficiaries would be Congress leaders from West Bengal as after Trinamool's exit from the government and Pranab Mukherjee's elevation to the rashtrapati Bhawan there is no representation from the state.

Deepa Das Munshi, Pradip Bhattacharjee and Abu Hasen Khan Choudhary could be the beneficiaries. Adhir Ranjan Cahudhary is also in the contention.

Sources said DMK chief M Karunanidhi is still not keen on giving names to fill the two vacancies in DMK's quota, created due to exit of A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran.

There is a feeling in the DMK that Jayalalithaa might use the Union government's failings to the hilt against DMK if two senior leaders join the government. But Karunanidhi is being persuaded by the Congress and a section of the DMK to change his mind.

Agatha Sangma from the NCP is all set to get an axe. She would be replaced by Tariq Anwar, who is expected to be made minister of state (independent charge).

Agatha had gone against her party chief Sharad Pawar's diktat to support her father P Sangma in presidential elections. Telgu superstar-turned-politician Chiranjeevi, who merged his party with Congress in Andhra Pradesh, is sure to get a ministerial berth. It would boost the sagging prospects of the party in Andhra Pradesh.

Five ministers are currently holding dual charge, Kapil Sibal—Human Resource and Telecom; Veerapa Moily—Power and Corporate Affairs; Vylar Ravi—Overseas Affairs and Science & Technology; CP Joshi—Surface Transport & Railway; Salman Khurshid—Law and Minority Affairs. The vacancies created due to death of Vilasrao Deshmukh and resignation of Gurdas Kamat (both from Maharastra) has also to be filled up.

There is a possibility that Congress general secretary Janaradhan Dwivedi would get a Cabinet berth. Former Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha K Rehman Khan and party spokesman Manish Tiwari could also get in.

Some leaders, who despite their seniority served as junior ministers—Srikant Jena and Harish Rawat—may finally be elevated.