The long-anticipated changes in the Union Council of Ministers — as part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s efforts to give his government a new look — are likely to take place on Sunday (October 28), senior Congress sources said. If that happens, some changes in the party may follow.
Vacancies — created by the exit of the Trinamool Congress from the United Progressive Alliance last month; the resignations of two senior Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam representatives in end-2010 and recently of Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh following allegations of corruption against them; and the death of Vilasrao Deshmukh — have to be filled. Indeed, the delay in making fresh appointments has meant several Cabinet ministers holding multiple portfolios: some of them may be relieved of one of their ministries. They include C.P. Joshi (Railways and Surface Transport), Kapil Sibal (HRD and Telecom and Information Technology), Vayalar Ravi (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Overseas Indian Affairs and Science and Technology), Anand Sharma (Commerce, Industry and Textiles) and M. Veerappa Moily (Corporate Affairs and Power).
Of the Ministers holding the top four portfolios — Finance, Home, Defence and External Affairs — only S.M. Krishna, Congress sources say, may be dropped, exchanging Foreign Affairs for a party post.
With Assembly elections due in Karnataka next year, these sources say, his services might be utilised there. If that finally happens, then there will be a list of hopefuls for the most glamorous job in the government.
While the possibility of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi joining the government still looks remote, Ministers of State Daggubati Purandeswari, Ashwani Kumar and Harish Chandra Singh Rawat may move up in the hierarchy, getting independent charge, if not a berth in the Cabinet. Of those from Mr. Gandhi’s generation — Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasada, Milind Deora, RPN Singh — one or two may similarly move to independent charge.
One of the reasons for the delay is that the DMK leadership, from whom names had been sought to replace A. Raja and Dayanidhi Maran, is not keen to fill its vacancies: there is great unhappiness at the fact that party supremo M. Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi, though currently out on bail, continues to face charges in the 2G case.
Of the other UPA allies, only the Nationalist Congress Party’s Tariq Anwar is likely to find a berth, replacing Agatha Sangma as minister. Ms. Sangma’s father, Purno Sangma, a founding member of the NCP, earned the wrath of party chief Sharad Pawar and other leaders when he contested the presidential elections against the official UPA candidate Pranab Mukherjee, now President. Mr. Sangma, whose candidature was backed by opposition parties, quit the NCP in July.
The government has not yet confirmed the timing of the reshuffle, but there have been several high-level meetings suggesting movement: Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held separate meetings with the President last week; Mr. Gandhi, too, met Mr. Mukherjee and the Prime Minister a day after those meetings.