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Major Cabinet expansion today

PRIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh is likely to induct over half a dozen cabinet ministers and a little less than a dozen ministers of state in his council of ministers. The swearing-in ceremony will be held at Rashtrapati Bhavan at noon on Sunday.

india Updated: Jan 29, 2006 01:36 IST

PRIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh is likely to induct over half a dozen cabinet ministers and a little less than a dozen ministers of state in his council of ministers. The swearing-in ceremony will be held at Rashtrapati Bhavan at noon on Sunday.

AICC general secretary Ambika Soni, Andhra governor Sushilkumar Shinde, Mumbai ex-mayor Murli Deora, former Maharashtra CM A.R. Antulay and Rajya Sabha MP from J&K Saifuddin Soz are likely to be sworn in as cabinet ministers. Among the allies, the JMM's Shibu Soren will regain his cabinet berth.

Tamil Nadu's G.K. Vasan, son of the late G.K. Moopanar, is tipped as MoS with independent charge. His induction is significant on account of the impending Assembly polls in his home state. The other debutantes in the MoS rank could include Delhi's Ajay Maken, Uttaranchal's Harish Rawat, Andhra's Pallam Raju and Purandeshwari, the late NTR's daughter, a Lok Sabha member.

The PM is expected to retain the cabinet position of External Affairs, lying vacant since K. Natwar Singh's resignation, given the scheduled high-profile visits to India by various foreign dignitaries, including US President George W. Bush.

Sources indicated that Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj is unlikely to be disturbed in the reshuffle. Shinde and Deora are being considered for power and petroleum portfolios respectively, but the final word will come on Sunday. Antulay’s task could relate to minority affairs.

Congress spokesman Anand Sharma is also expected to be sworn in as MoS.
The reshuffle-cum-expansion will be the PM's second, if one excludes the recent change of portfolios of cabinet ministers P. R. Das Munshi and Jaipal Reddy, since the UPA assumed power.

Contratry to earlier reports, Renuka Chaudhary will remain in Singh’s team.
The exercise, the details of which were finalised at the PM's meetings with Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Saturday, is billed by PMO sources as exhaustive. In all, Singh has to fill up eight vacancies in his council of ministers -- five in the cabinet rank and three ministers of state. But the RJD isn't likely to nominate anyone in place of Jai Prakash Narayan Yadav, MoS, Water Resources, who had to resign following registration of a criminal case during the Bihar elections.

Representation from J&K, following Ghulam Nabi Azad's appointment as chief minister, has also been a major point of speculation. The proposed elevation of Soz, already nominated to the Congress working committee, effectively nips the entry of PDP supremo Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Dr Karan Singh, made the chairman of the AICC's foreign affairs department in the recent organisational changes.

As for Ambika Soni, her appointment as cabinet minister would accord representation to Punjab, another state where elections are due in early 2007. At the same time, it would represent a major shift in the power equations within the Congress, where she was also the general secretary in charge of Sonia's office until the recent changes in the party organisation.

First Published: Jan 29, 2006 01:36 IST