India: Portfolio bargain begins

NEW DELHI: India's Congress party met with its allies to haggle over cabinet positions, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a position to dictate terms after his party's strong showing in the polls.

Congress, which won 206 of the 543 seats in parliament, would retain the portfolios for finance, defence, foreign affairs and internal security, a senior party figure told AFP.

The victorious alliance's other key members, the Trinamool Congress and the Dravida Munetra Kazagham party, are thought likely to seek cabinet roles responsible for the railways, food and telecommunications.

"These are infrastructure ministries with the potential of catering to audiences back home and therefore ideal for regional parties," said political analyst and author Rasheed Kidwai.

"But Singh has made it clear that he will demand accountability from all ministers."

Singh and his cabinet resigned on Monday after the Congress-led alliance bagged a total of 262 seats in the April-May general elections, just 10 short of a working majority in parliament.

Current Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee is tipped to be the new finance minister, while Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram is thought likely to keep his portfolio.

Media reports said Trade Minister Kamal Nath could be put in charge of the foreign ministry.

Singh is expected to call on President Pratibha Patil later Wednesday to stake his claim to lead the government, an official from the premier's office said.

The Congress-led alliance has an effective working majority after two small parties extended their unconditional support to the new government.