The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Big four out of shuffle radar

New Delhi, June 23: The expected cabinet shuffle could happen next week but is likely to leave the major portfolios untouched.

Before the changes are announced, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi will have a final discussion on them, party sources said.

Singh will be occupied with meetings of the National Development Council and the Inter-State Council on June 27 and 28, and Sonia will return from a holiday on June 29.

Congress sources said the “expectation” is that the shuffle would be a “limited” one and those at the “top” ' the ministers of finance, external affairs, defence and home affairs ' would keep their jobs.

Till last week, there was speculation in the party headquarters that defence minister Pranab Mukherjee would get home and the incumbent, Shivraj Patil, would get petroleum, leaving Mani Shankar Aiyar with panchayati raj. But this was later ruled out.

The shuffle is expected to be mainly a Congress affair though the Prime Minister has spoken to the two key allies, Laloo Prasad Yadav and M. Karunanidhi.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal and DMK chiefs have reportedly indicated that they do not want any changes to their list of ministers. The only United Progressive Alliance partner to have sought a change was Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party, who wants to upgrade Praful Patel, the minister of state for civil aviation (independent charge), into a full-fledged cabinet minister.

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren, however, is likely to return to the coal ministry after cooling his heels in Jharkhand.

Congress sources said the details of the exercise are intertwined with the changes Sonia may carry out in the party organisation.

Sources said the effort will be to try and meet the “regional and caste-based gaps” in the existing council of ministers. There is a feeling that the Brahmins of the Hindi belt are virtually unrepresented and that this “shortfall” must be made up soon so that rival parties do not exploit it. Sources pointed to the efforts of the Bahujan Samaj Party to win over the upper castes in Uttar Pradesh.

All India Congress Committee general secretary Ambika Soni is almost certain of being inducted, although it is uncertain whether she would get information and broadcasting or power.

The AICC treasurer, Motilal Vora, who is from Chhattisgarh, is likely to be brought in and Rajya Sabha member Murli Deora appointed in his place.

The other name doing the rounds is that of Anand Sharma, Rajya Sabha member from Himachal Pradesh, a state which, like Chhattisgarh, has no members in the council of ministers.

There has been talk of bringing in Giridhar Gamang to give Orissa its due share in the government.

Apart from being a former chief minister and a tribal, Gamang was among the few Congressmen to have won from Orissa during the last Lok Sabha polls. He could replace the present tribal affairs minister, P.R. Kyndiah, who may be shifted to another ministry.

Former Kerala chief minister A.K. Antony’s induction has, however, been ruled out with sources suggesting he may be “compensated” with a governorship.

After the shuffle, Sonia is likely to attend to the organisation and complete the tasks of appointing state Congress chiefs and revamping the working committee.

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