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Pressure piles on Rahul to join ministry

New Delhi, July 16: Rahul Gandhi is likely to join the Manmohan Singh ministry in a cabinet shuffle expected soon if the Congress leadership succeeds in persuading him to shed his reluctance to join the government.

Senior Congress leaders expressed their inability to talk about the proposed change with any degree of finality, conceding that only three to four persons would know of the exact plan. However, they feel Rahul becoming a cabinet minister is a very distinct possibility.

Sources revealed that the proposal had been discussed at the highest level and Rahul had already been brought under intense pressure. If Rahul agrees, the shuffle is expected before the monsoon session of Parliament starts next month, although the date has not been finalised yet.

Insiders confirmed that the nature and the contours of the cabinet shuffle, probably the last before the general election scheduled in 2014, would depend on Rahul’s response as he would have to be given an important ministry.

Some Sonia loyalists want him straightaway in one of the top four berths (home, finance, defence and external affairs) while the other options include human resource development (HRD) and rural development.

One view is that if Rahul takes one of the top ministries, it will automatically ensure his inclusion in the cabinet committee on security (CCS), cabinet committee on political affairs (CCPA) and the Congress core committee.

Departments like HRD and rural development would provide him with greater opportunities to show immediate results but he won’t become part of the top decision-making bodies.

Several leaders feel there is no point in extending Rahul’s apprenticeship by giving him less important ministries and that it is high time he assumes a proactive role.

“What Pranab Mukherjee did so far without heading the government should now be done by Rahul. He has to take the centrestage in political management and administration at this stage, when the general election is less than two years away, if he has to be projected as the next Prime Minister,” said a cabinet minister supposed to be close to 10 Janpath.

Asked about Rahul’s avowed commitment to working to strengthen the party organisation, the minister said: “The two jobs can be done together. The government has a vital role in shaping the electoral politics and if we don’t deliver on governance in the next few months, the party will anyway be doomed. Rahul will have to only redefine his approach, not priorities. If his induction into the government brings a sense of purpose, the party will stand to gain enormously.”

The sources said the reallocation of ministries would fall in place only after the Rahul question is settled. Questions like where A.K. Antony will be shifted if Rahul gets defence, who the next finance minister will be and who will look after external affairs will have to be addressed.

Besides, the DMK, which will claim two important ministries, will have to be accommodated. The fate of the Trinamul Congress will turn uncertain if Mamata Banerjee decides to vote against the UPA’s candidates for President and Vice-President.

The timing of the shuffle has not been settled yet. One view is to put in place the changes soon after the election of the Vice-President on August 7.

But some leaders feel the window available before the monsoon session of Parliament is too narrow and it will be wiser not to undertake any exercise in haste.

Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh’s remark yesterday that Rahul would play a larger role from September prompted some leaders to wonder whether the shuffle would take place after the monsoon session.

Asked about Digvijaya’s remarks, party spokesperson Manish Tewari said: “Congress workers and leaders have been asking for Rahul to assume a larger role for long but it is for him to decide what he wants to do.”