With Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh discussing the proposed reshuffle of the Cabinet, the race has begun for key berths.
A new Home Minister from North India is likely to be appointed to boost the Congress’ chances in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections scheduled to be held next year.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, who is Health Minister, could occupy Chidambaram’s chair. Chidambaram’s own wish is to return to Finance Ministry by displacing Pranab Mukherjee.
A case of elevation could be that of Dinesh Trivedi, the Man Friday of Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
During her recent visit to Delhi, Mamata Banerjee managed to get an assurance that the portfolio would remain with her party and her nominee would be in the Cabinet. Currently, Trivedi is a Minister of State under Azad.
The buzz is Azad, who earned praise from Congress chief Sonia Gandhi for his handling of Jammu and Kashmir in his tenure as chief minister, could be the second Home Minister from the Muslim community–after Mufti Mohammed Sayeed who headed the ministry in the V P Singh government in 1989.
Incidentally, Azad had replaced the Mufti as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir in 2005 and managed the state till the PDP’s politics over Amarnath yatra dented his image in 2008.
Congress sources say Azad may emerge the choice of Sonia Gandhi and the PM because of his vast political expertise, and his cordial ties with most Opposition leaders.
Azad’s rise as Home Minister, however, could mean clipping of wings of Ahmed Patel, currently political aide of Sonia Gandhi. Both are bitter rivals.
Azad is known as a liberal leader, whose style of functioning will diametrically opposite to Chidambaram who was seen as too bureaucratic and “babu-like” in most matters.
Azad’s appointment will also mean dashing of hopes of AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh who would love to take up the ministerial job– but for his self-imposed ten-year ban of not occupying any position in government since he lost the Madhya Pradesh assembly polls in 2003.
In case, Chidambaram moved into the External Affairs Ministry could upset the plans of Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, who is also trying hard for that portfolio.
Notwithstanding the row over bugging of his offices, Mukherjee could still look firmly in saddle in the North Block– even if the PM and a section of the industry wants a change.
Left to himself, Manmohan Singh would prefer to have either Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia or C Rangarajan, former governor of Reserve Bank of India and Andhra Pradesh– as the new Finance Minister.
After Mamata Banerjee shifted to the Writers Building, the PM took charge of the Railway Ministry. Mamata banerjee wanted her right-hand man, TMC leader Mukul Roy, who is already a Minister of State, to be given charge at the Cabinet-level.
There was also speculation that she might agree to part with Railways and allow a Congress minister to be put in her place in exchange of another TMC leader being inducted in the Cabinet. But with the Prime Minister reluctant to appoint Roy, the choice has fallen on Trivedi to be elevated as Railway Minister. Trivedi is backed by Ahmed Patel, fellow Gujarati.
Officials say Prime Minister has done a performance assessment exercise of the ministries and ministers. He wants a major overhaul of his Cabinet and a few younger ministers given more important roles to refurbish the government’s image. It may be the last big reshuffle before next Lok Sabha polls.
The buzz is that Law Minister Veerappa Moily could be shifted to another porfolio. Statistics and Programme Implementation Minister M.S. Gill and Rural Development Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh may be made to exit the Cabinet.
In fact, Chidambaram appeared to give sufficient hint when he was interviewed by NDTV over the weekend– on the changes in the Cabinet and whether he would stay as Home Minister. Here is the transcript:
Chidambaram: Do I have a choice? I don’t think I have a choice. These decisions are made by two people in our system today. One, the Congress President because I belong to the Congress Party and the other is the Prime Minister. We simply accept their decisions.
NDTV: You stepped down as Finance Minister, right after 26/11 .It’s been 3 years now. Would you say this is a job you want to keep or do you want to change portfolio?
Chidambaram: I have been in this job now (for) two-and-a-half years plus 25 days. I don’t know if I told you, in the security system we live one day at a time. It is like what Nadal said day before yesterday — I play one match at a time. I am not looking at meeting Federer or Djokovic in the final. I play one match at a time. So we live one day at a time. So I have a very accurate count of the number of days. But that’s not the point. The point is this is a tough job and sometimes one has to be out of your own character in order to do this job. I think many times I act and conduct myself quite contrary to my true character, when I have to deal with the issues that come with this job. This is a physically and mentally challenging job. The Finance Minister’s job is an intellectually challenging job. The job of the Minister of the Environment is an emotionally satisfying job, so I think these are different jobs. Now what job I will have, or whether I will have a job at all, I can’t say. I may not have a job at all
NDTV: Like many politicians do you aim for the top job?
Chidambaram: I know what I want to do in the remaining years of my life. I want to read, I want to travel and above all I want to write. I think inside me there is a writer. I can’t write as felicitously as Arundhati Roy. I disagree with her on everything, but I love the style in which she writes. I think she is the best Indian writer today. What she writes is, of course, highly provocative, but she is the best writer, be that as it may. So I want to read, travel and write. Now if you tell me that there is an afterlife and I can read, travel and write in the afterlife, if I am remain to be political for the rest of my life. Now I don’t believe in the afterlife, I have to find the time for doing those things in this lifetime.(end)