Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has set the stage for a reshuffle of his Council of Ministers, after announcing a slew of reform measures over the past two days and promising more major economic policy announcements soon, as indicated in Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s speech at the Planning Commission on Saturday.
The reshuffle, Congress sources said, could take place any day after President Pranab Mukherjee returns here on Monday from his West Bengal trip and the Trinamool Congress holds its meeting on Tuesday to take a call on how to respond to the government’s latest decisions.
With change in the air, a section of Congressmen is making a case for shifting the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, Prithviraj Chavan and Kiran Kumar Reddy, to Delhi, arguing they are not capable of leading the party to victory in the next Assembly elections, due in 2014, along with the general election.
But, the sources told The Hindu, it was unlikely that any Congress Chief Minister would be moved to the Centre. In the case of Mr. Chavan, the party leadership does not wish to be accused of removing a man who has a reputation for probity at a time when it is enmeshed in scandals. Speculation on a change in Maharashtra was triggered after State Industries Minister Narayan Rane — a Maratha like Mr. Chavan — met Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Friday. The sources said Mr. Rane had sought time with Ms. Gandhi a while ago and was eventually given time after she returned from abroad, and too much should not be read into the meeting.
In Andhra Pradesh, the party is in the midst of a political crisis; while Mr. Kiran Kumar Reddy, the party sources admitted, has not been able to take on rebel Jaganmohan Reddy, the Congress is finding it hard to find a replacement. The name of Union Petroleum Minister S. Jaipal Reddy, an MP from the Telangana region, has been taken as a possible replacement but, the sources said, he is reluctant to go to Hyderabad, with Andhra Pradesh still in a mess, and the volatile Telangana issue hanging fire.
Party sources said the top Ministers, P. Chidambaram (Finance), Sushil Kumar Shinde (Home), S.M. Krishna (External Affairs) and A.K. Antony (Defence) were unlikely to be touched. In fact, Mr. Chidambaram may also get corporate affairs, now held by M. Veerappa Moily, who is likely to be formalised as Union Power Minister. And with general secretary Rahul Gandhi making it clear that he does not wish to join the government, the chances of any of the younger Ministers getting a promotion look slim. Spokesperson Manish Tewari may, however, be inducted as a Minister of State.
As part of the re-organisation of the party and the government, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni, Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh and Overseas Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi may be drafted for party work while retaining their ministerial jobs, the sources said. In any case, Mr. Azad is currently doing double duty as Minister and party general secretary.
As far as the Congress’ allies are concerned, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam could get two new representatives: the names of party leader in the House T.R. Baalu and North Chennai MP T.K.S. Elangovan are being taken.
In the case of the Nationalist Congress Party, Minister of State Agatha Sangma is likely to be dropped and replaced by Tariq Anwar. As for the Trinamool Congress, with the threat of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee pulling out her Ministers from the government, there appears to be little chance of any addition, the sources stressed.