The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong claims big three ahead of berth sharing

New Delhi, May 15: Prime Minister-designate Sonia Gandhi has decided to retain the external affairs, finance and home portfolios for the Congress, leaving defence, railways, communication and “lucrative berths” for allies.

The rush for ministries has begun. Avtaar Singh Bhadana, a worldly-wise MP from Faridabad, touched Pranab Mukherjee’s feet with a prayer: “Dada backward quota se bana do. Mera jaisa backward koi nahin.” Mukherjee, unsure of a heavyweight berth himself, mumbled: “Let us see.”

But a fellow MP whispered: “Why is Bhadana being economical with the truth' Isn’t young Sachin Pilot a Gujjar'” An unfazed Bhadana retorted: “Usko bhi bana do.”

In Khan Market, a commercial hub barely a km from the Congress headquarters and 10 Janpath, MPs were seen queuing up to get their biodata photocopied. The copies were quickly slipped into neat folders and cars headed to five important destinations.

10 Janpath was the first stop but not all Congress MPs were lucky enough to hand over their curriculum vitae to Sonia. Some left them with her smiling and obliging aide Vincent George.

Then it was time for the next round. Going by indications, Manmohan Singh is definitely “number two” in the hierarchy. The good doctor has many tasks, including entertaining some of these “uninvited” guests.

Having placed the CVs in safe custody, the MPs headed to Mukherjee, Arjun Singh and Natwar Singh to “gently” remind them about their potential.

At 10 Janpath, Sonia was perhaps busier than Singh who was going through the draft common minimum programme. She had a long list of guests — over a hundred. Each had to be treated with caution and warmth. Some seemed too keen to join and those that are needed sounded lukewarm.

Ministry formation is proving to be a nightmare, but the Congress chief has set some ground rules. She has decided that three key portfolios should be retained with the party.

Foreign policy is dear to the Congress. In finance, Singh is the obvious candidate, though a section of the party is still toying with the idea of trying him out in the foreign office.

There are several claimants for the home ministry but those shortlisted are Mukherjee and P. Chidambaram. The two have also been earmarked for the Planning Commission and the commerce portfolio, respectively.

States where the party has done well will be rewarded. Andhra Pradesh is expected to get five ministers — Jaipal Reddy, Renuka Chowdhury, G. Venkat Swamy, Chinta Mohan and Purendeshwari. States going to polls shortly will also get preference.

The younger lot can expect a good deal. Jyotiraditya Scindia is a near certainty. Pilot is under consideration and perhaps Milind Deora or Jatin Prasada, too, might make it, subject to the support they get from “ring leader” Rahul Gandhi. Rahul, of course, is tipped to be general secretary.

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