Speculation for a cabinet reshuffle has gained momentum with the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Congress president, Sonia Gandhi meeting. The Congress-led UPA-II, which is hit by relentless waves of corruption charges, feel the reshuffle could possibly give the government and the party a breather. The government and the party strategists feel that the reshuffle could also put an end to the speculation about a snap poll. Opposition and a section of UPA allies, DMK, NCP and supporting outfits like Samajwadis and BSP have been hinting of a mid term poll.
The Prime Minister’s meeting for an hour came in the morning before he left for Hyderabad on a day’s visit, while Smt Gandhi met Shri Mukherjee in the evening for 40 minutes. Rahul Gandhi might not be in the union cabinet as he is likely to assume a larger role in party affairs. Despite being accused of corruption charges, Salman Khurshid, the prominent Muslim face of the party, could continue in the union cabinet.
However, a section of Congress leaders feel that by bringing in Rahul Gandhi in the union cabinet, will divert the media attention from Arvind Kejriwal and allegations being levelled against the Congress and the government. “If Rahul is inducted, the media focus will turn to him and his activities. No one will bother about India Against Corruption and its baseless allegations being levelled against the Congress,” a senior Congress leader said.
Apart from Robert Vadra, the Congress is now hit by the accusations being levelled against the union law minister, Salman Khurshid, whose NGO, Zakir Hussain Memorial Trust, is alleged to have embezzled public funds meant for the disabled. A rattled Khurshid, not only had a spat with the reporters during a press conference, he went to the extent of saying “I have been made the law minister and asked to work with the pen. I will work with the pen but also with blood.” This reported statement of Khurshid was being construed as him throwing a challenge to Arvind Kejriwal to stage a protest in his constituency Farrukhabad in Uttar Pradesh. Referring to Kejriwal’s threat to stage a protest in his home constituency from November 1, the senior Congress leader said, “Let them come to Farrukhabad and visit Farrukhabad. But let him also return from Farrukhabad.”
The kind of remarks coming from a union law minister has raised eyebrows. But of course, the Congress is not in a mood either to censure him or drop him from the union cabinet. For a beleagured party, Congress has always banked on minority votes to an extent. And for the party, Khurshid is the “only credible” Muslim face, the party has. That corruption is hardly an issue for the Congress ministers also became evident when another central minister Beni Prasad Verma was quoted saying that “Rs 71 lakh is too little for a union minister like Khurshid to embezzle”. Once again for the Congress, no action can be taken against Verma, since the party needs to have faces from UP to be in the union cabinet.
Coming back to the reshuffle, there are vacancies at the levels of Cabinet and Ministers of State. Cabinet and MoS berths are up for the grab following the exit of Trinamool Congress from UPA. Cabinet berths were also vacated following the ouster of DMK ministers, A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran. DMK supremo, M Karunanidhi, however, indicated that the party was not keen to reclaim the ministerial berths. Congress sources said that induction could be largely from the party. Young turks close to Rahul Gandhi, which include Manicka Tagore and Meenakshi Natarajan, could be inducted into the council of ministers. Others like Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Jitin Prasad might be promoted to Cabinet rank or given independent charge as Ministers of State. From West Bengal Deepa Dashmunshi, Pradeep Bhattacharjee and Adhir Choudhury could enter the union council of ministers.
Gurudas Kamat and Vilas Muttemwar could be re-inducted as Maharshtra has been lacking adequate representtion following the death of Vilasrao Deshmukh and Prithviraj Chavan moving to the state as Chief Minister. Some of the ministers holding two portfolios could lose one. This include Kapil Sibal (HRD and telecom), Dr CP Joshi (road and transport and Railways), Salman Khurshid (law and minority affairs), M Veerappa Moily (corporate affairs and power), Vayalar Ravi (Overseas Indian Affairs, MSME, science and technology, earth sciences). There are possibilities of some ministers being drafted for party work, sources said.