PM-Prez meet fuels speculation of Cabinet rejig

PM-Prez meet fuels speculation of Cabinet rejig

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi held discussions with President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday amid speculation of an imminent cabinet reshuffle, possibly this Friday.

While there was no official word on the purpose of the meetings, held separately, Congress sources indicated that with the festival season coming up and president away in his home town for the puja festivities next week, the reshuffle may be held before Saturday.

The prime minister met Mukherjee for about half an hour. Sonia Gandhi held discussions with the President for about 40 minutes.

There are several vacancies in the council of ministers arising out of the exit of six ministers belonging to the Trinamool Congress and the resignation of two cabinet ministers belonging to the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) besides several senior ministers holding more than one portfolio.

The reshuffle may be largely a Congress show except, perhaps, for the ally Nationalist Congress Party which is keen to push its leader Tariq Anwar to replace Agatha Sangma.

The DMK has often declared that it is not keen on filling the posts vacated by scam-tainted ministers A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran. A leader from Maharashtra is likely to be taken into the ministry to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Vilasrao Deshmukh.

One certainty among the new entrants is Telugu film star Chiranjeevi, who recently merged his regional party into the Congress. It is also likely that the prime minister may bring in some young leaders into his government. They include Meenakshi Natarajan, MP from Madhya Pradesh, Manick Tagore of Tamil Nadu (both considered close to Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi), Jyoti Mirdha (Rajasthan) and party spokesman Manish Tiwari (Punjab). Shashi Tharoor, who had to resign earlier because of a controversy relating to Indian Premier League, may return to the ministry.

Young ministers already in the ministry, including Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Patel, may be promoted to cabinet rank or vested with independent charge as ministers of state.

The exit of the Trinamool Congress may pave way for the induction of Congress leaders from West Bengal. They include Deepa Dashmunshi and Adhir Choudhury, known detractors of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, and West Bengal Congress chief Pradeep Bhatacharjee.

The fate of some of the ministers who have figured in controversies and alleged scams such as Law Minister Salman Khurshid, Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahai and Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaisawal, Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma is not known. However, in the absence of clinching evidence of their involvement in irregularities, they may retain their berth.

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