Clamour for ministerial berths

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on Thursday deferred a meeting with President Pratibha Patil as pulls and pressures continued on government formation with Trinamool Congress and DMK, two major pre-poll constituents of the UPA, demanding plum portfolios and more ministries.

With Singh set to be sworn in on Friday for the second term, Congress negotiators led by senior leader Pranab Mukherjee are grappling with the issue. A meeting slated this morning between Singh and the President on government formation was deferred apparently because the list of the Council of Ministers was yet to be finalised.

Indications are that Mukherjee is likely to get Finance portfolio while P Chidambaram and AK Antony are expected to retain Home and Defence, respectively. Among the probable names doing rounds for some of the key ministries are Kapil Sibal for Human Resource Development replacing Arjun Singh, who is likely to be accommodated in a gubernatorial post.

Salman Khurshid is likely to get Minority Affairs ministry, held by AR Antulay, who was defeated in the elections. A tussle is reportedly on wresting the Railway Ministry, held by RJD chief Lalu Prasad who is unlikely to find a berth in Manmohan Singh’s second innings. Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is eyeing the Railway portfolio as also the DMK. The name of Kamal Nath is being mentioned for the External Affairs portfolio. Reports had it that the DMK is seeking as many as nine ministerial berths in the new Union Cabinet while Trinamool Congress is insisting on getting one minister more than what the DMK is given.

Hard bargaining for ministerial berths among the constituents of the UPA continued amid indications that those who are not part of the pre-poll alliance may be kept out of the new government to be formed on tomorrow. DMK is said to be keen on five cabinet berths and four ministers of state slots. It is said to be eyeing the Health, Telecom, Power, Surface Transport and Railways ministries. It wants ministries to be given for debutant MPs Azhagiri and Kanimozhi, children of Karunanidhi, Dayanidhi Maran and A Raja and also for new entrants TK Elangovan, Helen Davidson and Jagatrakshakan, a third-term MP. Besides Banerjee, probable names in Trinamool Congress include Dinesh Trivedi, Sudip Bandhopadhyay, Sultan Ahmed and Mukul Roy.

The names of Sushilkumar Shinde and V Kishore Chandra Deo are doing the rounds for the post of the Speaker. Names of some new entrants in the Lok Sabha like Mallikarjun Kharge (Karnataka) and Manicka Tagore (Tamil Nadu) are also doing the rounds for induction in the ministry. Other Congress probables include those comprising the ‘young brigade’ of Milind Deora, Sachin Pilot, Naveen Jindal, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Jitin Prasada.