The resignations of four Cabinet Ministers and three MoSs on Saturday set the stage for a major reshuffle of the Union Council of Ministers slated for 11.30 a.m. on Sunday.
After the dramatic exit of External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna on Friday, Union Ministers Ambika Soni, Mukul Wasnik and Subodh Kant Sahay met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday morning to offer their resignations from the government so that they could return to organisational work in the Congress.
Later in the day, MoSs Mahadeo Khandela, Vincent H. Pala and Agatha Sangma (the last named is from the Nationalist Congress Party) also resigned.
Of the seven, Ms. Soni, Congress sources said, will be given a key position in the organisation, Mr. Wasnik is already a general secretary, while Mr. Pala, who is from Meghalaya, will also be drafted for organisational work.
As the Prime Minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi went in for a final round of consultations on Saturday evening, Congress sources said, the toughest decision related to who would be the next Foreign Minister. As the evening proceeded, it appeared as though Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma was the front-runner till a new name entered the conversation – that of Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid.
At the time of our going to press, there was no clarity on the matter.
Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath, party sources said, is likely to get additional charge of parliamentary affairs. Though there was a question mark over S. Jaipal Reddy continuing as Petroleum Minister, there was no certainty on whether he would be shifted, as it appeared that the pressure to move him was coming from a major industrial house.
Mr. Kapil Sibal will remain Communications and IT Minister but may lose his HRD portfolio. C.P. Joshi is likely to stay on as Railways Minister, party sources said, adding that his surface transport portfolio is now up for grabs.
The only thing that is clear is that five MoSs are to be elevated — while Ajay Maken will be joining the Cabinet, Daggubati Purandeswari, M. Mangapati Pallam Raju, K.H. Muniyappa and Ashwini Kumar are to get independent charge. Of the newcomers, those whose names are virtually confirmed are those of Jyoti Mirdha (Rajasthan), P. Balmuchu (Jharkhand), Rani Nara (Assam) AH Khan Choudhury and Deepa Das Munsi (West Bengal) and Tariq Anwar of the NCP: the last named is likely to be made MoS for Agriculture, working directly under Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who is also the NCP chief.
The politically volatile State of Andhra Pradesh, where the Telangana movement rages on, may be the biggest beneficiary, with five new MoSs – Suryapraksh Reddy (son of the former Chief Minister Vijayabhaskar Reddy), Balram Naik, Kruparani Killi, Sathyanarayana Sarvey, and actor Chiranjeevi. In addition, two MoSs from the State, Mr. Pallam Raju and Ms. Dagubatti Purandeswari, will get independent charge.
However, five-time MP Kavuru Samba Shiva Rao, who had hoped to become a Minister this time, resigned as MP when he realised that his name was not on the list. Congress sources said that Mr. Rao is likely to be pacified with the offer of a general secretaryship: the party cannot afford to lose an MP from the State at this stage.