Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Sunday categorically ruled out the appointment of a deputy prime minister, putting at rest all speculation regarding the elevation of any senior minister in the UPA government.
However, she indicated that the much-awaited revamping of the AICC will take place "as early as possible" while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed similar views regarding the appointment of governors. "There are some vacancies and they will be filled soon," he said.
Gandhi's was speaking at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Sing at the end of the two-day Congress chief ministers' conclave. The Congress chief intervened when the PM was asked whether he was considering appointing a deputy prime minister. Before Singh could reply, she said, "There will be no deputy PM. I am saying so categorically". It was than left to Singh to answer a question regarding the reshuffle of his Cabinet and the appointment of the next foreign minister. He said, "You will get to know it in a short time".
The political significance of Gandhi's strong intervention served as a note of caution to some of her party colleagues who had been lobbying hard during the past few weeks to get a Deputy PM appointed. By scotching the speculation she also put an end to a possible power tussle amongst some of the UPA constituents and their leaders.
The press conference on Sunday also provided an opportunity to Gandhi and Singh to clear the air regarding the performance of some ministers. Asked about her views on the functioning of the UPA government, Gandhi said, "I am absolutely satisfied with the prime minister and so are my colleagues."
However, she added that there could be some areas where the progress of the government was not at a desirable pace but the Congress was committed to the promises made in its manifesto as well as in the common minimum programme.
The two leaders fielded a wide range of subjects. In response to a query about the functioning of Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Singh said he was fully satisfied. On her part, Gandhi said that certain problems were discussed during her meeting with Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar just prior to the CMs' conclave. These problems had been pending for so many years and the farmers had been neglected during the NDA regime. "We are doing our best and it may take a little time. The agriculture minister is functioning in an effective manner," she said.
Replying to a question on whether Muslims or minorities were under-represented in the government or various spheres and on what the government proposed to do as a follow-up on the Sacchar Committee findings, Singh said he was waiting for the report which was the first comprehensive analysis of the minorities in the country.
Asked whether as part of the coalition dharma, the Congress would accommodate allies in gubernatorial appointments and in the UPA-Left coordination panel, Gandhi said that two panels were set up after the formation of the UPA government. The first committee dealt with the UPA coalition partners and served as a forum for exchange of views on vital issues. The other was constituted at the behest of the Left parties which were not part of the government. This panel was meant to discuss issues that were of concern to these parties. Both these mechanisms were working very well.
Gandhi also categorically stated that though TRS leader Chandrashekhar Rao had parted company with the Congress, the party's doors were open for any future negotiations with him. So far as the Telegana issue is concerned, it had been clearly spelt out in the CMP that a consensus should be reached regarding the solution. "Since no consensus has been reached, our quest for it continues".
Regarding her meeting with Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, Gandhi said it was not related to her coming back.
She also clarified that at no point of time had she expressed her opposition to the creation of SEZs. What she meant was that the issue needed to be treated with caution since it had both long-term and short-term implications. "We are not opposing it," she asserted.
As for the Congress' game plan in poll-bound UP, Gandhi said, "You all know the situation there." The party will work to defeat its rivals. Two very successful meetings in Kanpur and in Bareilly had been held. More such programmes were to be organised shortly. "Rahul will be playing a role in UP. He will be active perhaps when the election takes place in the state. He had accompanied me to Kanpur," she said.
She also said that she had not yet decided on her return to NAC as chairperson.