PM likely to deal himself a better hand. Pre-Budget

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August lineup A rejig is possible in the big four ministries with Home Minister P Chidambaram (far right) likely to be shifted to another department
Photo: AFP

A CABINET RESHUFFLE is most likely before the Budget session of Parliament starts in February. Sources in the Congress expect the reshuffle before 25 January as ministers will need time to settle in before the Budget is finalised.

The reshuffle is tied to the reconstitution of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), which was to happen before the Congress plenary held in Burari on 18-20 December. But both got delayed, probably because of the outbreak of various scams, the Congress’ embarrassing defeat in Bihar, and the crisis caused by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s walking out.

Asked to comment on the possibility of a reshuffle, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said, “The Cabinet is in the domain of the prime minister and the CWC is in the domain of the Congress president. I am not in a position to comment on either.”

The jobs of the three ministers who resigned — Minister of State (MoS) in the external affairs ministry Shashi Tharoor who fell victim to the IPL controversy, MoS in the PMO Prithviraj Chavan who was appointed Maharashtra chief minister after Ashok Chavan resigned because of the Adarsh housing scam, and telecom minister A Raja, who quit in the aftermath of the 2G scam — have to be reallocated. Kapil Sibal has four ministries under him now, and Sharad Pawar, who is also president of the International Cricket Council, had asked the prime minister to lighten his workload in July last.

Congress circles report talk of external affairs minister SM Krishna either getting shifted to the commerce ministry or moving out of the Cabinet. The prime minister is quite keen to rid the Cabinet of anybody facing corruption allegations; Krishna’s name has cropped up in land allotment scams in Karnataka. Sriprakash Jaiswal, minister for coal, is also on the exit list.

If Krishna goes, it would mean a rejig of the Big Four: finance, home affairs, defence and foreign affairs. This might mean a shift for P Chidambaram, who is not exactly in party general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s good books.

The party will also be bothered about Muslim representation in the Cabinet, especially after Azam Khan’s return to the Samajwadi Party. He has already pointed out there was only one full-fledged Muslim minister: Ghulam Nabi Azad of Jammu & Kashmir. This has fuelled speculation that Salman Khurshid, MoS with independent charge of corporate affairs and of minority affairs, will get elevated to Cabinet rank. Uttar Pradesh gained importance after the Bihar debacle.

There has been talk of a generational shift in the CWC, with the old guard being eased out

ONE MINISTER likely to stay put, despite earning the ire of several Union ministers and party seniors for obstructing development projects by not granting them environmental clearance, is Jairam Ramesh. While he has the backing of the Congress president and Rahul Gandhi, the prime minister’s first priority is economic growth.

Then there is the question of balancing Cabinet positions with party requirements. Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad might get a change of portfolio and a greater role in the party organisation; he already has charge of Tamil Nadu, which will go to Assembly polls soon. Another state with approaching Assembly polls is West Bengal, which is in the charge of Andhra Pradesh MP Keshav Rao, who has gone to the extent of threatening to quit the Congress if Telangana is not created. The Congress already has a highly volatile ally in West Bengal, TMC’s Mamata Banerjee.

Minister of Road Transport and Highways Kamal Nath, Madhya Pradesh state president Suresh Pachauri, and Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi reportedly seek a greater role in the party organisation. The Congress leadership might want a change in Andhra Pradesh — Law and Justice Minister Veerappa Moily is in charge of the state now. Similarly, Defence Minister AK Antony is in charge of Maharashtra.

Four ministers (three now, with Prithiviraj Chavan off to Maharashtra) hold the position of general secretary. They are Azad, Mukul Wasnik (Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, who also looks after Bihar) and V Narayanasamy (Ministries of Planning and Parliamentary Affairs).

There has been talk of a generational shift in the CWC. The old guard comprising stalwarts such as Arjun Singh and Mohsina Kidwai is expected to give way to a younger lot (the joke is that the Indira loyalists will give way to the Rajiv loyalists.) Sources say there is a tussle on, with Rahul Gandhi demanding a greater role for his youth team in the party, featuring names such as Jitin Prasada and Jyotiraditya Scindia. However, Rahul is unlikely to join the Cabinet.

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