The Congress leadership appears to be reconciled to conceding the Indian Union Muslim League's demand for a fifth berth in the Oommen Chandy Cabinet even though there is considerable opposition in the party against the move. The IUML leadership has decided to go all out to ensure that its nominee would be sworn in as Minister along with the Kerala Congress (Jacob) MLA Anoop Jacob.

The IUML has been exerting strong pressure on the Congress for the fifth minister ever since the UDF come to power. The leaders of the two parties however decided to set aside the issue lest it affected the ministry-forming process. The Congress had also asked for a six-month breather since the ruling coalition was hoping to get the support of some parties in the LDF to shore up its slender majority in the Assembly.

The UDF was to have taken a final decision in November, but had to postpone it owing to the death of T.M. Jacob. With the emphatic victory in Piravom and the resignation of R. Selvaraj from the Neyyattinkara seat and from the CPI (M), managing ruling numbers by engineering defections from the LDF has become a non-issue since the UDF is comfortably placed. It is in this context that the IUML leadership has broached the topic of inducting its fifth minister at the earliest. The leaders of the two parties are expected to resume the discussions this week. According to UDF sources, the IUML would carve out the fifth ministerial slot from the existing portfolios held by the party.

The IUML's demand for a fifth slot is itself the outcome of the torrid faction feud in its ranks. As soon as Chief Minister Oommen Chandy began the ministry formation process, the IUML State president Syed Hyderali Shihab Thangal made the formal announcement in Thiruvananthapuram that his party would have a fifth minister even before the UDF had completed discussions on sharing the ministerial portfolios. Since then, the IUML leaders have been maintaining that it would be difficult to retract from an announcement made by the Thangal.

Opponents of the move

The Congress has been trying to delay a decision on the IUML's demand because it is worried about the negative impact it will have on the prospects of the UDF because of the predominance of Ministers belonging to minority communities. Organisations such as the SNDP and the NSS have reportedly expressed their reservations.

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