One reason for government taking a tough line is that PMO will become more vulnerable

As it sought to neutralise the Opposition onslaught by accepting the recommendations of the Inter-Ministerial Group on the controversial coal block allocation issue, the Union government remained determined to refrain from bending any further. Amidst speculation that Union Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal could lose his job, a senior Congress functionary, on being asked if some ministerial heads could roll — as Ashok Chavan quit as Maharashtra Chief Minister after his name cropped up in the Adarsh scandal in end-2010 — said firmly on Thursday: “That wasn’t necessary at the time; you can see for yourself that Ashok Chavan hasn’t yet been indicted.”

Indeed, unlike at the time of the first set of scandals that hit UPA-II in 2010, the mood in the Congress — and government — today is belligerent. Part of the aggression stems from the fact that Chief Ministers of BJP-ruled States had also written to the Centre, opposing the auction route for allocation of coal blocks. (The CAG report has said the decision not to auction coal blocks has resulted in a loss of Rs 1.86 lakh crore, as this policy allowed private players to get undue benefits.) Interestingly, of the four blocks that the government announced will be de-allocated, two were assigned when the BJP-led NDA coalition was in power at the Centre. The other reason for the government taking a tough line is that it would make the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) even more vulnerable, as some of the decisions being questioned were taken when the Coal portfolio was held by the Prime Minister. The question of dropping anyone would arise, Congress sources added, only if there was incontrovertible proof of wrongdoing and benefit.

With less than two years left for the next general elections — and a slew of key State polls to face before that — the Congress wants to stay on course to re-organise its personnel and marshal its forces. The first step, the sources said, will be to accommodate a few MPs belonging to allies in the Union Council of Ministers — the parties likely to get more representation are the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham, the Nationalist Congress Party (one more Minister of State, perhaps Tariq Anwar) and the Trinamool Congress (one Minister of State to replace Mukul Roy who was elevated to the Cabinet when Dinesh Trivedi exited).

The next step, the sources added, would be to look at the States going to the polls to determine if any rejig could improve the party’s chances there; so, for instance, there is talk that Minister of State for Commerce Jyotiraditya Scindia might be sent to Madhya Pradesh as State chief to lead the party for elections due there next year, and Rajasthan, another poll-bound State, may get more representation at the Centre. Union Surface Transport Minister C. P. Joshi’s services, too, may be commandeered for the polls in Rajasthan.

Union Corporate Affairs Minister Veerappa Moily, who was given additional charge of the Power portfolio after Sushilkumar Shinde became Home Minister, may lose Corporate Affairs, while being formalised as Power Minister. With Pranab Mukherjee now President, someone else from West Bengal, such as Adhir Chowdhury or Deepa Das Munshi, could be accommodated. And with the recent death of Union Heavy Industries Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, an MP from Maharashtra could get lucky. While Gurudas Kamat’s name is in the air, the fact that he resigned from the Union Council of Ministers to protest denial of a Cabinet berth could be held against him, the sources said.

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