Three cabinet ministers and three ministers of state quit the government on Saturday, setting the stage for the much-awaited cabinet reshuffle on Sunday. External affairs minister SM Krishna had resigned on Friday.
Cabinet ministers Ambika Soni, Mukul Wasnik and SK Sahai met PM Manmohan Singh and handed over their resignations. Ministers of state Mahadev Khandela (tribal affairs), Agatha Sangma (rural development) and Vincent Pala (water resources and minority affairs) also quit on Saturday.
The shakeup is being widely seen as Congress’ effort to infuse fresh blood in the government in the face of an aggressive civil society, Opposition and media. In addition, the party is hoping to put its house in order ahead of the next general election by bringing senior leaders back on organisational assignments.
It seems almost certain younger leaders will get a larger role in the new ‘Team Manmohan’. While Meenakshi Natarajan, Pradeep Balmuchu, Deepa Dasmunsi, Pradip Majhi, Manicka Tagore, Manish Tewari, Chiranjeevi and Abu Hasnat Khan Chowdhury are among those expected to be inducted as ministers of state, sports minister Ajay Maken could get a cabinet berth.
Among the ministers of state, Harish Rawat, KH Muniaappa, Sachin Pilot, Purandeswari and Jyotiraditya Scindia could be promoted — some to cabinet rank, others with independent charge.
While Sangma put in her papers after she campaigned for her father PA Sangma in the presidential poll, Pala and Khandela have been roped in for party work.
Commerce minister Anand Sharma is being touted as the new external affairs minister but no senior Congress functionary confirmed it.
Shashi Tharoor, former minister of state for external affairs, is likely to stage a comeback.
The NCP’s Tariq Anwar will be the only new entrant from the alliance parties in an otherwise all-Congress reshuffle. He may become a minister of state of agriculture. The DMK leadership has decided not to reclaim its berths.
The swearing-in ceremony of new ministers, which will take place at 11.30am on Sunday, is scheduled to be the last before the Congress-led UPA heads for the next general election. Soni, who is tipped for a major role in the party organisation, said after resigning: “It would be an honour to work for the party.”
Wasnik too, said: “I have been working for the organisation for the past several years and I would like to continue it.” Sahai, who got embroiled in the Coalgate scam allegations, claimed that Congress president Sonia Gandhi had asked him to take up organisational responsibilities.