The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ministry set for shuffle minus new faces

New Delhi, Nov. 17: The Union ministry expansion, which was expected to happen before the winter session of Parliament begins on November 23, has hit an uncertain patch again. Sources, however, said the Prime Minister is expected to reallocate some of the portfolios tomorrow without inducting new faces.

The expansion exercise, which had gained momentum on Tuesday and Wednesday with discussions between Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, started to “slow down” by this evening, government sources said.

The “uncertainty” stemmed from several factors. One reason was Laloo Prasad Yadav’s reported plea to Sonia that he could not immediately fill a vacancy in his own quota, created by the resignation of Jai Prakash Narayan Yadav as minister of state for water resources.

The railway minister’s argument was that the Election Commission’s code of conduct would be operative in Bihar till November 19. Since all his MPs are from Bihar, he would have to pick a nominee from the state.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal chief, party sources said, also came up with a second argument against an immediate expansion. He suggested that if the Bihar polls threw up a hung House and Ram Vilas Paswan’s role became decisive, the Centre could bargain with him by offering additional portfolios for his MPs or a more “attractive” ministry for him.

Laloo Prasad had another demand that the Prime Minister was unwilling to accommodate: upgrading Prem Chand Gupta, minister of state for commerce, to full-fledged minister. Singh was also reportedly not too keen to have Shibu Soren in his team.

There were other “glitches”, too, Congress sources said. For instance, although AICC general secretary Ambika Soni was “finally inclined” towards joining the government and had even hinted at a preference for the I&B ministry, Sonia was having “second thoughts” about moving her away from the party organisation.

The “tricky” issue of balancing caste and regional equations also appeared unresolved. For instance, the high command wanted to induct former Andhra Pradesh party chief and now Rajya Sabha MP, V. Hanumantha Rao. The problem was that like the other two ministers from the state, S. Jaipal Reddy and Renuka Chowdhury, he too is from Telengana. Inducting him could, therefore, upset those from the other regions.

Besides, sources said, the Prime Minister felt he already had enough on his plate: the Iran vote, the Bihar polls and the Supreme Court verdict on the Bihar Assembly dissolution. He didn’t need a ministry expansion to add to his worries at this point.

All morning, the expectation at the AICC headquarters was that the expansion would happen by Friday noon. By sundown, it started to sink in that it may not happen even by Saturday, and after that it would be “too close” to the Parliament session.

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