New Delhi, Nov. 1: With three weeks to go before the start of the winter session of Parliament and several slots falling vacant in the Union ministry, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi are toying with a plan to shuffle the council next week.
The latest vacancy arose as Ghulam Nabi Azad formally resigned from the ministry today, a day ahead of assuming office as Jammu and Kashmir chief minister.
Azadís exit has forced the Prime Minister and the Congress chief to turn their attention to a recast, which has been on their agenda for over four months now.
The approaching winter session of Parliament has added a sense of urgency as Azad, in addition to the urban development berth, was holding charge of parliamentary affairs, too. He has been playing the crucial role of floor coordination with the Congress partyís allies and partners.
The Prime Minister handed temporary charge of parliamentary affairs to water resources minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi.
Congress circles believe that Das Munshi, who had handled floor coordination when he was the Congressís chief whip during the NDAís rule, might be asked to take over the portfolio on a regular basis when the Prime Minister carries out the proposed shuffle.
Last week, when the party announced that Azad would be heading to the Valley, most Congress leaders had concluded that Das Munshi would be given the additional charge of parliamentary affairs.
Besides Azadís slot, vacancies had arisen earlier in the wake of the death of Sunil Dutt and the exit of Jagdish Tytler, both from the Congress.
An indication that Sonia has begun to actively consider Singhís ministry shuffle agenda was available from the party last week itself. A day after announcing Azad as the partyís chief ministerial candidate, AICC spokesman Abhishek Singhvi had said the reconstitution of the partyís higher decision-making bodies, like the working committee and the AICC secretariat, was on the cards.
Party circles feel that Sonia has linked the shuffle to contemplated changes in the organisation. Some ministers are being considered for being given responsibilities in the party.
It is almost certain that Ambika Soni, the chairperson of the partyís media department, will be shifted to the government with a cabinet rank.
More Congress faces are likely to make an entry into the ministry because half-a-dozen states have gone without representation at the Centre for the last 17 months.