A day after the 19 MP-strong Trinamool Congress formally quit the United Progressive Alliance government, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday, fuelling speculation that the long-anticipated reshuffle of the Cabinet was imminent.
They discussed the “current political situation,” Rashtrapati Bhavan spokesperson Venu Rajamony said in a statement.
There was no authentic information on the possible date of the reshuffle, but with the President beginning a three-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir next Wednesday, the changes could take place as early as Monday or Tuesday. Sources in the government said the Cabinet meeting, scheduled for next Tuesday, was brought forward to Monday, and this suggested an opportunity on Tuesday.
On Saturday, the government moved swiftly to give Surface Transport Minister C.P. Joshi the additional charge of the Railways portfolio, held till Friday by the Trinamool’s Mukul Roy. This is being read as a stop-gap arrangement till a new Railways Minister is appointed. Sources in the Congress said that while the party was keen on keeping this key portfolio with itself, it could also be seen by future allies as a lure thrown at them.
However, with the parties supporting the UPA from outside — primarily the 22-MP Samajwadi Party and the 21-MP Bahujan Samaj Party — not inclined to enter the government thus far, the Railways portfolio could well remain with the Congress.
Interestingly, while Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, son of SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav, criticised the Centre’s decision to permit foreign direct investment in retail, arguing that it would affect small farmers and traders, he once again said it was important to keep communal elements at bay.
Meanwhile, in Kolkata, the Congress’ six Ministers (two Cabinet and four Ministers of State) resigned from the Mamata Banerjee government, even as the Trinamool threatened to move a resolution against FDI in retail in the winter session of Parliament.
While there is still no clarity on who the new entrants to the Union Cabinet will be, the Congress sources said that with the exit of the Trinamool, and the departure of Mr. Mukherjee for Rashtrapati Bhavan, at least two new faces from West Bengal will be appointed. The recent death of Vilasrao Deshmukh will also necessitate the induction of a new cabinet Minister from Maharashtra.