On May 22 Manmohan Singh will be sworn in for his second consecutive term as prime minister — but before that expect long nights and some hard-nosed bargaining by the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) allies for ministerial berths.
<b1>On Wednesday, as President Pratibha Patil met
with and appointed Singh as Prime Minister, senior Congress leaders Pranab Mukherjee, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ahmed Patel — Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary — had an inconclusive meeting with DMK chief M Karunanidhi, who has asked for nine ministerial berths (from seven last time).
UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talk during the meeting of UPA allies to discuss government formation, at 10 Janpath.
“Further discussions are required,” said Mukherjee, emerging 75 minutes after he joined the discussions. Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee — now demanding the railways and coal ministries — upped her demands, asking for one portfolio more than the DMK, which with 18 MPs is the UPA’s third-largest constituent. The second largest is the Trinamool with 19.
The government can have 81 ministers, including the PM, who is likely to be sworn in with 50 ministers that will reflect experience and youth. The vacancies will help the PM pick new talent — and accommodate later demands from its increasingly strident allies. It will also leave scope for future partners.
Singh announced the support of 322 MPs after emerging from Rashtrapati Bhavan at 5:15 pm. “I have pleasure to appoint you the PM and request you to advise me on the names of the others to be appointed to the council of ministers,” Patil said in her letter, which she handed to Singh when he and Congress president Sonia Gandhi (62) met her for 10 minutes.
The day began at 11 am with the Congress playing tough and delaying a decision on its allies’ demand for a common minimum programme (CMP).
HT had reported on Wednesday that the Congress — which had a CMP in 2004 — did not want one this time. “A small group will decide what are the common features in the manifestos of each party,” said spokesman Janardan Dwivedi (63) after the first meeting of the Congress and its 10 pre-poll allies, where Gandhi was elected UPA chairperson. “And if required, these would be included in the government’s programmes.” Niceties were soon discarded as Banerjee, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar (68) and National Conference president Farooq Abdullah (71) asked for a CMP.
Gandhi is expected to name the group shortly. The other message emerging from the meeting is the continued cold-shoulder for RJD chief Lalu Prasad (61), who set up a so-called fourth front with the LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan (62) and the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh (69). No one spoke for Lalu.
Karunanidhi’s family was in the limelight. Three of them — son MK Azhagiri (58), grand-nephew Dayanidhi Maran (42) and daughter M Kanimozhi (40) — are in the reckoning.
So too is outgoing telecom minister A Raja (46) and new entrant TKS Elangovan. The party reportedly wants to retain surface transport and shipping and claim the health portfolio.
Depending on the quota evolved, Trinamool may get two or three Cabinet berths and three Ministers of State (MoS). Besides Railways, she may want Coal and Steel and an MoS in the Home Ministry.
Barring a token presence, lone MPs Bwiswmuthiary (Bodoland People’s Front), KM Mani (Kerala Congress), Asaduddin Owaisi (AIMIM) and Thol Thirumaavalavan (BCC) are unlikely to be accommodated in the Cabinet. They are part of the new UPA.