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Singh ends with a size of 60-plus

New Delhi, May 21: Prime Minister-elect Manmohan Singh will be sworn in at 5.30 tomorrow at the head of a government that will have some 62 members.

Singh will retain the finance portfolio, handing senior colleague Pranab Mukherjee home.

After long negotiations, during which Singh and the Congress got its first real taste of coalition politics, ally Sharad Pawar is tipped to get agriculture. External affairs stay with the Congress, K. Natwar Singh heading the ministry.

P. Chidambaram’s name was missing from the late-night list.

Uncertainty over the swearing-in ceremony taking place tomorrow continued for most part of the day, until Singh offered railway and rural development to the Laloo Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal. Laloo Prasad is certain to sit out while the portfolios will go to Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Kanti Singh.

Senior Congress leader Arjun Singh, too, made it to the cabinet but, like Kamal Nath and Ahmed Patel, there was a question mark over his portfolio. Defence is vacant after Pawar said he wants to take up a ministry “closest to his heart”. His associate Praful Patel is tipped to bag petroleum.

Priya Ranjan Das Munshi emerged as the dark horse for human resource development. Ghulam Nabi Azad will be the parliamentary affairs minister with concurrent charge of tourism.

The DMK has been rewarded with surface transport, information technology and communication and environment and forests.

Throughout the day, the allies led by Laloo Prasad and Pawar kept the Congress on edge. The two teamed up to propose that their combined strength of 30 MPs should be counted for Pawar to be named deputy Prime Minister.

Laloo Prasad was offered the post of convener of the coordination committee of the United Progressive Alliance but the Bihar leader deftly converted it into the two prize ministries of railway and rural development.

As if the Pawar-Laloo Prasad team was not enough of a headache for Singh, Congress leaders joined in, too. Arjun Singh and “other loyalists “ (a denomination used to identify members of the erstwhile Tiwari Congress) sought rewards for their allegiance to 10 Janpath.

Hectic lobbying followed for plum posts and portfolios such as civil aviation, communication, petroleum, food, rural development, steel and mines and ministries related to the infrastructure sector.

Sonia held several rounds of talks with a worried Singh. The Congress president had to call off her Sriperumbudur visit in connection with Rajiv Gandhi’s death anniversary.

She sent Ahmed Patel and Mukherjee to Pawar’s house where they had a lengthy discussion with Laloo Prasad. Other, smaller allies also joined hands to form pressure groups.

Singh tasted success when he managed to push through CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee’s name as Speaker. Given Chatterjee’s experience and skill as a parliamentarian, the Congress was happy with the choice.

Yesterday, the alliance leader had managed to set some ground rules for government formation — one minister for allies to three for the Congress — but today, all that changed.

A section close to the Prime Minister-elect favoured a smaller council of ministers consisting of 25-odd members. The proposal triggered trouble, though there was a strong rationale that the new government should be lean and efficient.

There was another logic in this line of thinking: to leave carrots dangling for potential allies like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ajit Singh and possibly the Left. But the mad scramble for office took the figure to 62 when the list reached Rashtrapati Bhavan.

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