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Five-man Cong army holds reins

New Delhi, June 10: In matters of external security, allies of the Manmohan Singh government can have their say, but it is the Congress which will have its way.

As expected, the Prime Minister today revived the Congress practice of constituting a Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs that used to take policy decisions on all important political matters and external and internal security issues. The previous NDA government had dispensed with the CCPA and opted for a Cabinet Committee on Security.

Contrary to official indications, Manmohan has also constituted a CCS. It would, sources said, deal exclusively with external security issues.

The CCS is an exclusive Congress domain. Besides Manmohan, who chairs it, the members are defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, home minister Shivraj Patil, finance minister P. Chidambaram and foreign minister K. Natwar Singh.

Besides the CCS five, the CCPA, also chaired by the Prime Minister, has human resource development minister Arjun Singh, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav and IT and communications minister Dayanidhi Maran — the last three from allies — as members.

The CCPA, an all-powerful body in previous Congress governments, including the last one headed by P.V. Narasimha Rao, stands somewhat diminished by the CCS.

In the NDA government’s CCS, George Fernandes represented the BJP’s allies as he held the defence portfolio.

In the hard bargaining that preceded the formation of the Manmohan ministry, the Congress managed to keep the four key portfolios of defence, home, foreign and finance. But, in a delicate balancing act, Manmohan conceded Pawar the number three and Laloo Prasad the number four positions in the seniority ranking of his cabinet ministers.

Arjun, a Congress old guard, too, has found himself out of the top security decision-making body despite his number two ranking. The number two man in the Rao government until he rebelled lost out as the plum home portfolio he eyed went to Patil and Arjun found himself back in the human resource development ministry he held in the last Congress government.

Surprisingly, Maran was preferred for inclusion in the CCPA over his senior party colleague and DMK parliamentary party leader T.R. Baalu. DMK chief M. Karunanidhi had also almost given the parliamentary party leadership to the young Maran but eventually settled for Baalu, the senior-most leader in the parliamentary party.

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