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Centre shuffle wait lengthens
- CP Joshi to hold railways for now

New Delhi, Sept. 22: The Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi are yet to finalise the upcoming changes in the Union cabinet and the Congress, which are likely to be delayed.

Sonia is not expected to announce her new party team before mid-October, while government sources said Manmohan Singh was trying to complete the cabinet shuffle before September 30. But some leaders want both exercises done together next month.

The Prime Minister’s meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee this evening triggered speculation about an early rejig but Rashtrapati Bhavan sources said Singh had come only to discuss the political situation.

Trinamul’s withdrawal of support has raised speculation about the government’s majority in Parliament, and the BJP has demanded a special House session to discuss FDI in multi-brand retail, which the government views as preposterous. Singh may have conveyed to Mukherjee the government’s position on these matters, sources said.

They added that the President had consulted legal experts and decided that a special session was not needed.

Rashtrapati Bhavan sources confirmed there had been no word from the government on the cabinet reshuffle.

Singh has given the railways, vacated by Trinamul’s Mukul Roy, to surface transport minister C.P. Joshi as an additional charge, providing another hint that the shuffle could take some time.

Several factors have delayed the cabinet revamp. While it is not easy to drop even non-performing or tainted ministers because of political sensitivities, even inductions are proving tricky, partly because of a shortage of people with both ability and a clean image.

There is a buzz about S.M. Krishna being replaced as external affairs minister, which means the government has to find a successor with both expertise and stature. While younger leaders such as Anand Sharma and Salman Khurshid are interested, some lobbies favour the veteran Shivraj Patil, who is unhappy at the Punjab Raj Bhavan.

Vilasrao Deshmukh’s death has opened up a Rajya Sabha seat from Maharashtra, which could help pave Shivraj’s way back to the cabinet.

There is talk of shifting Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to Delhi as he has a clean image but Patil too fits that bill. Singh wants someone with experience and standing in the railway minister’s post as well.

Ghulam Nabi Azad has both, and the earlier idea of shifting him to the party could be reconsidered. Kamal Nath, who earned the Prime Minister’s wrath and got demoted in the last shuffle, is another senior expecting rehabilitation.

Jaipal Reddy too wants a change of portfolio: he is apparently unhappy in the petroleum ministry. Finding suitable portfolios for Tariq Anwar and Janardan Dwivedi, both senior politicians without ministerial experience, is another challenge.

Bengal has complicated the jigsaw: Sonia now wants a sizeable representation from the state in the cabinet. Plus, there has to be a three-way meeting of minds since Rahul Gandhi too has a say now.