Prithviraj Chavan’s appointment as chief minister of Maharashtra could lead to the Union Cabinet reshuffle that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reportedly been contemplating.
Chavan’s change of address has added a second ministerial vacancy since the resignation of Shashi Tharoor as minister of state for external affairs.
Singh is expected to address the issue when he returns from the G20 meeting later this week. Though there is no firm word on it, many expect the reshuffle to take place in mid-January 2011 in tandem with the changes Congress president Sonia Gandhi makes in the All India Congress Committee ahead of the party’s plenary session in December. But it is clear that Amethi MP and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi is firm on not joining the government; he wants to focus on strengthening the party’s frontal organisations.
Singh is reportedly mulling a makeover of his team that could include an infusion of fresh blood, exclusion of the jaded ones, rejigging some portfolios, elevating some ministers and weeding out non-performers — a difficult task as it is, made more so by coalition politics.
With Ashok Chavan resigning, pressure will mount on Singh to replace the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK’s) A Raja whose role in the 2G spectrum controversy is under the scanner. But Raja’s removal can only be decided by DMK chief M Karunanidhi.
“It will be tough to exclude even senior Congress ministers who are ailing or not performing,” said a Congressman. Finding a replacement for Prithviraj in the Prime Minister’s Office would be difficult too. “The person chosen would have to enjoy Singh’s and Sonia’s trust,” he added.
Among Singh’s pending jobs is to address Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s request for a lighter workload. Facing flak over food inflation, Pawar had made the request a few months back.
The possibility of a reshuffle has spawned intense lobbying for the handful of berths up for grabs. Prithviral was handling the Prime Ministers Office, science and technology, earth sciences, parliamentary affairs, personnel, public grievances, pensions and atomic energy portfolios. While Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal will handle science, technology and earth sciences, the others were under the overall charge of the prime minister.