Ahead of a much-awaited cabinet reshuffle that could take place next week or as early as Monday, Ajay Maken on Saturday resigned as union housing and urban poverty alleviation minister to work for the party.
With the move coming less than six months from crucial assembly elections in Delhi, Maken could be considered a strong contender for the chief minister’s post if the Congress decides to opt for a fresh face. The New Delhi MP has always been an aspirant for the post and his resignation may signify the Congress strategy for the Capital.
In an impending reshuffle of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) that will follow the cabinet rejig, Maken is likely to be appointed general secretary. He has submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The 49-year-old leader — once a protege of Delhi’s three-term CM Sheila Dikshit — was earlier minister of state for home affairs and later given independent charge of sports and youth affairs.
Among other likely changes, Union health minister and party general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad — a strong votary of the one-person-one-post norm — is likely to be divested of his organisational responsibility.
Also, AICC secretary Meenakshi Natarajan may be upgraded to general secretary and be given responsibility of the Youth Congress and NSUI, a charge held by vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Natarajan, a Lok Sabha MP from Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, had worked closely with Gandhi in democratising the party’s youth and student wings.
This could possibly be the last reshuffle in the union council of ministers and the Congress before Lok Sabha elections scheduled for April-May 2014.
Earlier this week, Congress president Sonia Gandhi held separate meetings with the PM and President Pranab Mukherjee. The PM also met Mukherjee.
Singh is expected to bring in some new faces and effect changes in existing portfolios. At present, the union council of ministers has 10 vacancies - including those created by the DMK’s withdrawal of support and the resignations of former railway and law ministers Pawan Kumar Bansal and Ashwani Kumar in the wake of controversies.
CP Joshi is likely to lose his road transport and highways portfolio and retain railways. Kapil Sibal may continue to hold dual charge of law and telecom.
Srikant Jena, minister of state (independent charge) for statistics and programme implementation, may be looking at an elevation to cabinet status.
He may be given the chemicals and fertilisers portfolio.
Ever since he joined the government as a junior minister in 2009, Jena has been demanding elevation on the grounds of having served as cabinet minister in the United Front government in 1996.