After pressuring the DMK to make A Raja quit as telecom minister, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asserted himself again. On Monday, he handed the portfolio to HRD minister Kapil Sibal, though the DMK was hoping he would keep it vacant by holding it himself.
DMK chief and Tamil Nadu CM M Karunanidhi had reportedly conveyed to the Congress that he wanted the portfolio vacant till the PM reshuffled his Cabinet and named his party's nominee to the ministry.
With additional charge of telecom, Sibal's plate is now fuller — and his stock higher — as only last week, he was asked to look after science and technology, when Prithviraj Chavan became Maharashtra CM.
The move of taking telecom away, even if temporarily, from the DMK caused ripples among its leaders in Delhi.
On Monday, they went into a huddle at the residence of parliamentary party leader TR Baalu, an aspirant for a ministerial berth. Baalu underlined that the portfolio "belonged" to his party, as it was negotiated during UPA-I and "re-negotiated" when UPA-II was formed.
Later, Baalu played down the decision: "I am not disturbed. It is the PM's prerogative. It is for him to decide. He can ask anybody to take charge… it is only a stop-gap arrangement."
According to him, the DMK was allotted three cabinet berths and with Raja gone, one slot is vacant. "The DMK has to have one more minister… It has not asked for any ministry now. Our leader has not given any name to succeed Raja to the PM."
Though there was speculation that Karunanidhi's daughter and Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi could replace Raja, DMK sources said their leader was not keen on it lest it appear he was favouring family over party.
Textiles minister Dayanidhi Maran, who held the telecom portfolio from 2004-07, is reportedly acceptable to the Congress. But Karunanidhi may not want to risk another intra-party crisis ahead of assembly polls next year, given Maran's uneasy relationship with Raja, who is the party's Dalit face. Maran himself may not be keen on the post, given the controversies surrounding the 2G spectrum sale and Raja's role in it.
So, for now, the ministry rests with Sibal, who is familiar with the legal issues surrounding it. "There is no reason why like other ministries, the telecom ministry cannot run smoothly," he said.