The changes in the Council of Ministers could be accompanied by a reshuffle of the party’s office-bearers.
A meeting on Thursday evening between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh triggered speculation about a ministerial reshuffle, possibly next week.
The Prime Minister indicated to journalists on his way back from a recent trip to Japan and Thailand that he intended to fill the gaps in his Ministry soon. “There are some vacancies. The issue of filling them is being considered,” he had said.
The three Cabinet jobs that fell vacant were those of Chemicals and Fertilisers, Law and Railways, held respectively by M.K. Alagairi – till his party, the DMK, decided to leave the UPA — Ashwani Kumar and P.K. Bansal. Mr. Kumar was asked to quit following allegations that he had “influenced’ the contents of a CBI affidavit in the Supreme Court, while Mr. Bansal was forced to depart after his nephew was caught accepting a bribe from a member of the Railway Board.
Since then, Srikanta Jena, an MoS, has been holding charge of the Chemicals and Fertilisers, while Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal and Surface Transport Minister C.P. Joshi were given additional charge of Law and Railways respectively. Congress sources say that Mr. Sibal is likely to keep both portfolios while Mr. Joshi — whose home State, Rajasthan, is headed for the polls later this year — may keep Railways.
As for the five MoS slots, the Congress sources say that MPs from election-bound States of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan as well as troubled Andhra Pradesh are being considered. There is talk that some Congress MPs from the Telangana region may be inducted.
However, what will be important will be the final shape of the Ministry, as it is unlikely that there will be any more changes till the general elections in 2014.
The changes in the Council of Ministers could be accompanied, party sources say, by a reshuffle of the party’s office-bearers. D.R. Shandil — who is now a Minister in the Himachal Pradesh government — Jagdish Tytler and Gulchain Singh Charak might lose their organisational responsibilities. Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has been asking to be relieved of his position as a general secretary — so this will give the new vice-president Rahul Gandhi to induct a young face for this job.
The PM’s meeting with Ms. Gandhi also came on a day when the government finally decided against an ordinance on Food Security Bill as it decided to renew its efforts to talk to the Opposition parties about it from Friday. The Congress is very keen to pass the Bill as it feels it will give it a talking point for the next elections, along with the Direct Benefit Transfer scheme.