Feverish speculation ahead of reshuffle Wednesday evening

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

NEW DELHI - Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily was amongst the leaders who called on Congress president Sonia Gandhi Wednesday as speculation intensified over the reshuffle of ministries by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later in the day.

The reshuffle Wednesday evening would be the first since the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-II government was installed 19 months back.

While no details were officially available, Congress insiders said the prime minister was likely to induct some new faces, promote a few others and send out some Congress ministers for party work.

The oaths of office and secrecy would be administered to the new ministers at 5 p.m. at Rashtrapati Bhavan, official sources told IANS. However, the official notification and invitation for the function is yet to be issued.

The main question being discussed in political circles was whether there would be changes in the infrastucture and industrial portfolios, including power, highways and road transport, urban development, steel and heavy industry.

“I think Sonia Gandhi and the prime minister have given serious thought to fulfilling the developmental agenda of UPA-II and will begin the changes today. The next instalment of cabinet changes will be after the budget session, when the assembly poll results will be also out,” an office-bearer of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) told IANS.

Sonia Gandhi met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday for nearly two hours.

Several ministers, including Virbhadra Singh, B.K. Handique and Kantilal Bhuria, also met Sonia Gandhi Tuesday, fuelling speculation that they may be asked to opt for party work.

While there were different versions about the nature of the reshuffle, it appeared that the “big four” in the cabinet - Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, Home Minister P. Chidmabaram and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna - would be left untouched.

Sources said the DMK was likely to get a berth in place of former communications minister A. Raja and the Trinamool Congress was also expected to get an additional ministerial berth.

While Sharad Pawar’s portfolios of agriculture and food, consumer affairs and public distribution are likely to be split since he some months back had sought that them prime inister lighten his burden, the party may be compensated either by elevation of minister of state for civil aviation (independent charge) Praful Patel to the cabinet or allotment of another portfolio.

Minority Affairs Minister and former Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Salman Khurshid’s elevation to cabinet rank appears almost certain as the party prepares to woo larger sections in the most populous state which goes to polls in 2012.

Khurshid may be given the law portfolio with Moily shifted to human resource development, which is currently with Kapil Sibal, who also holds the communications and science and technology portfolios.

Jairam Ramesh and Srikant Jena are other two ministers of State being considered for promotion, Congress circles said.

From West Bengal, which goes to polls in May, Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay is likely to be inducted.

From Kerala, K.C. Venugopal may find a place in the ministry. Venugopal is seen as a replacement from the Nair community for Shashi Tharoor, who had to resign last year in the wake of Kochi-Indian Premier League row.

From the DMK, the choice may be between former ministers T.R.Baalu or T.K.S. Elangovan.

From the agitation-hit Telangana region, former Andhra Pradesh Congress chief Keshava Rao may be inducted.

Among other names doing the rounds for a ministerial position are Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari, party secretary Meenakshi Natarajan, Tamil Nadu MP Manik Tagore and young parliamentarian Navin Jindal.

The cabinet reshuffle will be followed by the constitution of a new Congress Working Committee which will include many of the ministers moved out, party sources said.

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