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Cong in a bind over cabinet reshuffle

NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s request to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to ‘reduce his burden’ has put the Congress in a quandary, as it threatens to unsettle the delic-ately-balanced allocation of ministerial berths and portfolios.

delhi Updated: Jul 07, 2010 01:29 IST
Saroj Nagi

NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s request to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to ‘reduce his burden’ has put the Congress in a quandary, as it threatens to unsettle the delic-ately-balanced allocation of ministerial berths and portfolios.

Congress sources said there has been no official discussion on a reshuffle and they were not certain whether it would take place before Parliament reopens on July 25 — as Pawar wants — or after it closes in August.

“It is for the Prime Minister to decide whether and when to act on Pawar’s request,’’ said a Congress functionary.

Pawar, who holds the portfolios of agriculture, consumer affairs, food and public distribution, and has also taken over as president of the International Cricket Council may retain the first and shed the others. Even this step would create problems for the Congress.

Who should take over the portfolios Pawar gives up? According to NCP spokesman D.P. Tripathi, they should ideally go to NCP leaders. But if fresh NCP inductions are made even in junior slots, it will upset the formula under which the berths and portfolios were distributed and prompt other allies to raise demands for more berths too.

The Congress may want to keep them so for possible future inductions– like Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Ajit Singh.

A reshuffle is due no doubt. Manmohan Singh’s team is lopsided. There is no cabinet minister from UP or Bihar. Unlike 2004 when Jats like K. Natwar Singh (before his exit) and Sis Ram Ola were ministers, this time there is no Jat cabinet minister. If Ajit Singh, an ‘outsider’ Jat, is inducted, it is bound to upset Congress’s Jat leaders.

Of the existing team, Ghulam Nabi Azad (Health) and G.K. Vasan (Shipping) are reportedly seeking a change in portfolios. Some like Prithviraj Chavan are overburdened. Over half a dozen ministers double as party functionaries. DMK’s A Raja and ailing Mines Minister B.K. Handique may be replaced and Rajya Sabha’s deputy chairman K.Rahman Khan inducted.