Allies placated, now jostling in Congress delays govt expansion

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: May 27 2009, 06:25am hrs
The expansion of the Union council of ministers did not take place on Tuesday and is now likely Thursday during which representatives of the DMK and other UPA allies would be among those inducted in the government. Indications of the second phase of swearing-in taking place on Thursday came after a Congress core group meeting chaired by party president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday.

The slow and zealously guarded decision process in the Congress has caused deep anxiety in the top echelons of the party and its allies with almost everyone, barring the six whose portfolios have been announced, waiting for that elusive phone call informing them of their fate.

While the arrangement with allies has now been reached, the problem for the Congress is now within. There is a clamour among Lok Sabha MPs for adequate regional representation.

Mallikarjun Kharge, the 67-year-old Karnataka leader and a prominent Dalit face, claims to have contested because he was told he would be suitably rewarded. He stepped down as Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, but the post has not been filled yet the state leadership awaits his fate at the Centre first.

With S M Krishna and Veerappa Moily already being inducted in the first batch, Kharge called up a Congress general secretary to inquire whether he should give up on the Bangalore post since his future in Delhi was uncertain and he had received no phone call.

Kapil Sibal, Kamal Nath and Moily are chief stars of every ministry speculator, having been assigned almost every important ministry below Raisina Hill. Kamal Nath, who was hoping to go up the Hill, is now slightly disappointed and is learnt to have held lengthy meetings with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee but came out with no firm answer. In fact, at one point, Defence Ministry mandarins had the bio-data of both A K Antony and Kamal Nath ready.

Berths now being tossed around between the three are Law, Commerce, Roads, Shipping and Transport, Human Resource Development, even Environment and Forests. While Kamal Nath is said to be not so keen to return to his old beat despite the persuasion, Sibal makes no bones about the fact that he will not accept the Law portfolio.

Moily, incidentally, has no such preference but does not particularly like being in the dark. I am more eager than you to know what is my ministry, but no phone call has come, he said.

Prithviraj Chavan, MoS in the outgoing government, was slated for an upgrade. Despite being in-charge of PMO, he too awaits the phone call. In the meantime, he continues to receive calls from other aspirants.

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi is also said to be preparing a list of young talent who should be considered for MoS posts. But the one line, again, from this brigade of aspirants is: No phone call yet. Some even say, Keep us posted.