He would rather be elevated party vice-president or secretary-general
Ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament, starting on August 8, there will not be just a new Leader of the Lok Sabha but, in all likelihood, a new Finance Minister and a new Home Minister as well, highly placed sources told The Hindu. While Home Minister P. Chidambaram remains the front-runner for the Finance Minister’s job, Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde remains the top contender for both Leader of the House and the Home portfolio. And for the time being, another Cabinet Minister can be given additional charge of the Power portfolio, the sources said.
None of these changes will require oath-taking, as those being considered are already members of the Cabinet: just a notification will do.
The sources said the changes in the Congress organisation could follow, and that the bigger changes being spoken of in the Union Council of Ministers might now have to wait until after the Parliament session concludes on September 7.
This is partly because the vice-presidential election is scheduled for August 7, a day before Parliament convenes. While the United Progressive Alliance government has a majority in the Electoral College — the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha — it does not wish to annoy anyone ahead of the poll.
More importantly, the Congress leadership is still very keen that Rahul Gandhi, the party’s yuvraj — and general secretary — join the government. But highly placed sources told The Hindu that Mr. Gandhi is still not keen on taking up a ministerial responsibility as he feels it would tie him down: he would rather be elevated in the Congress as vice-president or secretary-general — this last post was created only once for the late Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna.
However, if Mr. Gandhi does not join the Cabinet, it will effectively block the chances of elevation of younger Ministers Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Ajay Maken, D. Purandeswari and M.M. Pallam Raju. For, if they are given greater responsibilities and projected as the Congress’ future leaders, the government would automatically acquire a more youthful look.
Of these, Mr. Maken, Mr. Pilot and Mr. Scindia belong to the key poll-bound States of Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where elections in 2013 will precede the general elections in 2014. Last week, three junior Ministers, Jitin Prasada, Jitendra Singh and R.P.N. Singh, were inducted into the screening committees for Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Tripura, where elections are due later this year, apparently to indicate that the party leadership wanted to give GenNext a larger share in decision-making.
Meanwhile, party sources indicated that last week, after Nationalist Congress Party leader and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar threatened to quit the government over a variety of issues, Mr. Shinde’s chances of elevation dimmed. But on Monday, these sources said the leadership is of the view that selecting the Leader of the House is the Congress’ prerogative. Of course, within the party, apart from Mr. Shinde, whose selection would send out a strong social message as he is a Dalit, the names of Kamal Nath and S. Jaipal Reddy are still floating around. For Home Minister, the other name is Veeerappa Moily, a former Chief Minister of Karnataka.
Other people who could get a look-in in September in the Union Council of Ministers include someone from West Bengal to replace President Pranab Mukherjee, though clearly it will not be anyone of his seniority. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is also hoping that it will be able to get back the two Cabinet slots it lost after the resignations of A. Raja and Dayanidhi Maran.