A day before Oommen Chandy is to be sworn in as Chief Minister, the Congress leadership in Kerala on Tuesday wrapped up the distribution of ministerial berths with various constituents of the United Democratic Front in a convincing manner by leveraging the slender majority the coalition has in the Assembly.

The highlight of two-day discussions on ministerial berths allocation was the success that the Congress leaders achieved in containing Kerala Congress (M) leader K.M. Mani's demands for three ministerial slots, against the higher stakes his party claimed, including that of deputy chief ministership.

The Congress and the Kerala Congress (M) appear to have accepted the reality of the situation the election results had thrown up. The Congress had to concede the crucial Finance portfolio to Mr. Mani, but retained some of the prime subjects and got Revenue. The smaller parties, especially three single-member parties stood to make major gains, making inroads into areas such as Tourism and Culture that were with the Congress.

For a person who has the unique record of presenting eight budgets consecutively in the Assembly, Mr. Mani can claim to have made some headway by getting back the Finance and Law portfolios, with Housing as an additional subject. His party colleague P.J. Joseph apparently got a better deal from the merger cornering the Water Resources portfolio.

The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) is happy to get four ministerial berths along with the seven departments it held on previous occasions. The IUML had earlier handled Industry and Information Technology, Education, Local Administration, Public Works, Minority affairs and Social Welfare. In addition, the party would get the Deputy Speaker's post to reflect its 20-member strength in the Assembly.

The Socialist Janata (Democratic) Party's nominee in the Chandy Cabinet will get Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, while the Kerala Congress (B) nominee K.B. Ganesh Kumar will get Tourism and Culture Affairs. T M Jacob, who makes up the third single-member party nominee in the Cabinet, is likely to get Civil Supplies, Consumer Affairs and Ports.

Contrary to expectations that the slender majority will create dissensions in the UDF, the allocation of berths and the portfolios was wound up within a matter of days. The fact that two other coalition partners, the JSS and the Communist Marxist Party, could not get their candidates elected to the Assembly gave some leeway to the UDF leadership in the allotment process. Secondly, the limitations imposed by the community composition of the UDF, with larger representation for the minority communities also put a leash on runaway ambitions of some of the leaders. Besides, the current bipolar coalition system, with its sharp division, hardly offered any option to the partners to pitch it high.

The Congress, after winding up its issues with partners, has to finalise its Ministers amid conflicting claims. It has to ensure an adequate balance in terms of communal and regional equations, within the nine slots it has in the Ministry, excluding Mr. Chandy. He will soon have to tackle internal issues in his party by ensuring a fair representation to various sections. Informed sources said Mr. Chandy was expected to take his list to Delhi for the final approval of the high command in time for expanding his team by May 23.

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