A quick-fire remark by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a dinner he hosted for MPs of the UPA and supporting parties, including the Samajwadi Party and the BSP, on Tuesday has triggered speculation of an imminent reshuffle of the council of ministers.
When asked as to who would represent India at the UN General Assembly session in September, the Prime Minister quipped, :The new foreign minister." As is well-known, the portfolio has been with Singh since Natwar Singh's exit from the government. Another factor that could hasten the changes are the resignations of TRS representatives Chandrashekhara Rao and A Narendra, whose party has also withdrawn support to the UPA on the Telangana issue.
While it is still a little early to guess the PM’s gameplan, some of his cabinet colleagues felt that the reshuffle could be wider than expected, including some key portfolios other than external affairs and labour.
As for the timing, it is felt that Singh might carry out the changes before leaving for his 10-day tour to Cuba and Brazil from September 10. Before that, the PM has also lined up visits to Maharashtra and Orissa.
However, the PM will need to consult Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi before nominating Natwar’s successor in the Cabinet slot. The MEA currently has two ministers of state — E Ahmed of IUML and the Congress Anand Sharma.
As the cabinet slot for labour and the MoS berth for rural development was held by the TRS, they are likely to be given to an alliance partner.
The labour portfolio could even go to an independent member or a person who shares an equation with the Left in order to try and remove some of the irritants that lie in the path of initiating labour reforms.