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Mid-size leaders in silent sulk
- Denied plum portfolios, Congressmen try to catch Sonia’s eye

New Delhi, May 25: Allies like Laloo Prasad Yadav bargained hard and got what they wanted. The machinations of senior Congress leaders like Arjun Singh for portfolios are not quite secret either. But ministry allocation has left what now looks like an army of silent sufferers in the Congress.

Some like Jagdish Tytler and Santosh Mohan Dev, who have been ministers for long years in previous Congress governments, are believed to be neither happy with their minister of state rank nor with the portfolios assigned to them, particularly when seen in contrast to their juniors such as Mani Shankar Aiyar (petroleum) getting cabinet berths and important portfolios.

Dev has conveyed his disappointment to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, though indirectly. He raised objections publicly only to the appointment of Taslimuddin as minister of state in his heavy industries department where he himself is a minister of state, though with independent charge. Singh shifted Taslimuddin today.

Tytler, who held better portfolios under the late Rajiv Gandhi, is said to be amused over the portfolio of non-resident affairs. The department does not even have a full-fledged office, nor does the minister know the nature of work.

Kapil Sibal, the articulate election-time party spokesman, is another. Elected to the Lok Sabha after trouncing the BJP’s high-profile candidate, Smriti Irani, in the capital’s Chandni Chowk constituency, Sibal had expected a cabinet berth and his favoured law ministry.

Neither happened. Party veteran and the Gandhi family’s trusted man H.R. Bhardwaj walked away with law. When he was made a minister of state in Saturday’s swearing-in ceremony, Sibal knew he was not getting what he wanted. To his disbelief, he was allotted science and technology and ocean development. He is believed to have made it known to the leadership that his services could have been better utilised in areas where he has proven competence, which would be law.

Minister of state Oscar Fernandes, who has been an AICC general secretary for over a decade, has conveyed his feelings to Sonia about the exciting portfolio he has been given, statistics and programme implementation.

Some others are also said to be unhappy to see their nameplates stuck to what they believe to be the wrong doors and intend bringing this to Sonia’s notice.

The Congress president’s lieutenants in the AICC establishment are, however, relishing the fate of the sulking ministers. They now have the party organisation much to themselves after the exit of some functionaries to join the government.

One of them, general secretary Ambika Soni declined the offer of a ministry, preferring to remain a Sonia confidante in the party establishment and made much of the “sacrifice” she was apparently making. Like Sonia, like Soni. From the 24 Akbar Road party headquarters they hope to try and demonstrate the primacy of the party over the government.

These party leaders, whom Arjun called a coterie around Sonia in May last year, are said to have played a key role in the selection of Congress nominees and assigning of portfolios in the ministry. There is speculation in the party that they might have had a hand in ensuring Arjun did not get the home portfolio.

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