Print this article

Congress tries to balance coalition partners in Cabinet formation

May 22, 2009 01:24 IST

Even as uncertainty still continues over the nitty-gritty of government formation and Dr Manmohan Singh's cabinet is still in the process of  being finalized, what the Congress is doing is creating a very interesting situation where major portfolios of finance, home, defence, external affairs and Human Resource Development are being given to the top leaders in the party while taking care that all caste, communities and regions are being represented.

The following are being considered for these top posts: Pranab Mukherjee a Brahmin from West Bengal, P Chidambaram, a  Bania (belonging to the Chettiar community) from Tamil Nadu, A K Antony, a Christian from Kerala, Ghulam Nabi Azad, a Muslim from Kashmir and Kapil Sibal, a Punjabi from Delhi.

This is being seen an inclusive team incorporating all vitals sections, Sikh, Christian, Muslims and Brahmin etc. The decision to give the top slots to political leaders who would understand the political realities and compulsions is a carefully considered one, say sources and has been arrived at after careful thought.

Inherent in this decision is the talent quota in these names with all of them having delivered in the past and passed the competence test. For example, sources said that Rahul Gandhi is looking for a modern mind for the HRD ministry, one of the most crucial ministries in the government, which impacts the very "essence and foundation" of a nation.

Even as the prime minister is focusing on talent and competence, sources in the Congress say that Sonia Gandhi's considerations are that despite crossing the 200 seat barrier, the party cannot do away with its emphasis on social engineering and the need to ensure that no region or section goes unrepresented.

Sources said that in order to give a younger look to the government, there is a serious proposal on the table to bring in 6 Parliamentary secretaries who would be attached to the Prime Minister along the lines of the Amar Akbar Anthony team of Rajiv Gandhi. At the time he became prime minister Rajiv Gandhi brought in Arun Singh, Ahmed
Patel and Oscar Fernandes as his three parliamentary secretaries and their political careers took off from there.

This time around the proposal is to bring in 6 parliamentary secretaries and they will all be young leaders who would be handpicked by Rahul Gandhi who had a tea party two days ago for around 20 young MPs, many of whom are first timers while others are looking at a slot in the council of ministers having been elected for the second or the third time. This includes Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasada and others.

Congress leaders state that the second term in the government, the prime minister would like a smaller cabinet which is more work oriented and where the superfluous amongst the ministers are eliminated. The proposal from the prime minister to the party is to have 21 cabinet ministers from the Congress and 5 from the allies bringing the total to 26 as opposed to the 35 that were there in the outgoing cabinet.

Congress leaders say that with the emphasis on development and governance, the "deliverable is infrastructure" and the PM is keen that these should remain with the Congress. With the party counting surface transport, shipping, agriculture , civil aviation, heavy industries, railways and HRD and others as infrastructure, the party is clear it wants to keep as many of these as possible and would part only with those which are absolutely necessary.

With the Congress negotiating team of Pranab Mukherjee, Ahmed Patel and Ghulam Nabi Azad taking a tough stance vis-à-vis the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's demands, sources say that the party leaders admit that a mistake was made in including only pre-poll allies in the pre-ministry formation discussions as this has given parties like the DMK a major bargaining handle. It is being felt that if earlier allies like the Rashtriya Janata Dal, and the Samajwadi Party had been included M Karunanidhi may not have flexed his muscles so.

The DMK wants 4 cabinet berths with the Congress unwilling to give more than 3. Karunanidhi has supposedly  asked for the Railways portfolio for Dayanidhi Maran, IT and communications for A Raja, Surface Transport for son Azhagiri and roads and highways for T R Baalu. He also wants an MOS (independent charge) of Health for daughter Kanhimozi. Along with this he wants another three MOS posts.

With the DMK playing hard ball, the Congress is not unduly worried. A senior leader said that last time too, the DMK had joined the government later and this time the Congress has the additional Back up of supporting the DMK government in Tamil Nadu. Sources said the PM was uncompromising on the issue of induction of T R Baalu and A Raja, against whom there are corruption charges, into the Cabinet,  but later agreed and now the issue is stuck over the fourth cabinet berth.

Congress leaders say that once a formula has been devised, it cannot be changed for every supporting party. Congress leaders say that the DMK is a hard bargainer and it's a question of who blinks first. The AIADMK is still waiting in the wings with its chief Jayalalitha having given a statement that the DMK should not be given these portfolios.
For the moment the DMK has announced that it will give outside support.

Sources said the Congress is also reworking the numbers and is willing to call the DMK's bluff. There is apparently no problem with the Trinamool congress with Mamta wanting only one cabinet and four Minister of State berths as
she wants to be the only cabinet minister from her party.

The formula of 7 MPs for every cabinet minister has been prepared keeping Mamta's convenience in mind. Mamta is not too comfortable as many of her MPs have come from other parties to contest under her party's symbol and this time around she wants the railway portfolio. She has asked for 5 ministers of state with the portfolios of rural development, health, minority affairs, women's education and industry. Her five candidates for ministerships are Dinesh Trivedi, Dr Kakoli Ghosh-Dastidar, Dr Shishir Adhikari, Sultan Ahmed and Somen Mitra.

Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar is all set to return to Krishi Bhawan as the Agriculture minister even as Praful Patel would have a second innings as the civil aviation minister. Sources said after the meeting of the NCP with Congress leaders Pranab Mukherjee and and Ahmed Patel, the NCP would agree with no hassles. It is learnt that to accommodate Sharad Pawar, the formula of 7 MPs for a cabinet and a Minister of State post was used. It is not yet clear whether Supriya Sule would also be taking oath as an MOS.

Renu Mittal in New Delhi