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Team Manmohan gets going
Pranab returns to Finance, Krishna in South Block
Tribune News service

n P Chidambaram and A K Antony retain Home and Defence portfolios, respectively.

n NCP chief Sharad Pawar will retain the Agriculture, Food & Civil Supplies, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution ministries

n Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee is new Railways Minister

n The DMK, which was earlier not agreeable to the formula suggested by the Congress leadership, expected to get three portfolios of Cabinet rank and 2-4 Ministers of State rank.

New Delhi, May 23
The Prime Minister on Saturday allocated key portfolios to six cabinet ministers after presiding over the first cabinet meeting at his residence. There were no surprises as Pranab Mukherjee expectedly was named the Finance Minister, P Chidambaram retained the Home portfolio and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar named minister for Agriculture, Food and Civil Supplies, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution.

S.M. Krishna, a former Fulbright scholar, was named the the new External Affairs minister and Mamata Banerjee the new Railway Minister.

The Trinamool Congress leader created a mild flutter by declaring that she would take charge of her ministry with six other party colleagues who are also expected to join the council of ministers early next week.

Krishna reiterated India’s stand that dialogue with Pakistan could resume if the neighbouring country makes credible efforts to destroy the terror hubs used to launch attacks on India. The new Finance Minister, Mukherjee, admitted that the growth rate has slowed down but assured that steps would be taken to protect the Indian economy, promptly evoking favourable response from trade and the market.

A Rashtrapati Bhavan communiqué said ministries that have remained unallocated would be looked after by the Prime Minister. It is expected that the portfolios of the other 13 Cabinet Ministers sworn in yesterday would be announced on Monday or Tuesday. The PM will undertake a major expansion of his Council of Ministers possibly on Tuesday by inducting more cabinet Ministers and Ministers of State, giving representation to the DMK as well. (See page 2)

The DMK, which was earlier not agreeable to the formula suggested by the Congress leadership for its representation in the Council of Ministers, is now expected to get three portfolios of Cabinet rank and 2-4 Ministers of State rank.

Manmohan Singh began his first day in office by visiting Rajghat, the ‘samadhi’ of Mahatma Gandhi, to pay tributes to the Father of the Nation and later presided over the first meeting of his new Cabinet, which approved the schedule for the Parliament session. The portfolios of six ministers were announced after the meeting.

Seventy seven-year-old Krishna is a Congress loyalist, who has been the Chief Minister of Karnataka and Governor of Maharashtra. A Fulbright scholar, the US-educated Krishna takes over the charge of the External Affairs Ministry from Pranab Mukherjee at a time when New Delhi is grappling with several global challenges, particularly the security region in the region, especially in Pakistan.

Pranab Mukherjee, the governments’ man for all seasons during the UPA’s first term, returns to the Finance Ministry after 25 years. He had reportedly told the PM that he was finding it quite difficult to extensively travel abroad in his capacity as the foreign minister. Mukherjee had been given the additional charge of the Finance Ministry in December last year after Chidamabaram was moved to the Home Ministry following the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. The Bengali ‘dada’ had presented the Interim Budget of the UPA government and will now present the full budget.

Chidambaram, who reluctantly took charge of the Home Ministry after Shivraj Patil’s unceremonious exit following the Mumbai attacks, has come in for appreciation from both his friends and adversaries for his deft handling of the matters concerning internal security. The PM was quite keen on his continuation in the Home ministry.

Antony, the ‘Mr Clean’ of Indian politics, has been retained in the Defence Ministry because both UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the PM wanted him there. India is expected to sign major defence deals in the coming days and it was felt that an honest man like Antony should be at the helm of affairs in the ministry at this juncture.

Pawar, the Maratha strongman, gets the portfolios, which are quite dear to him. His proximity with the PM enabled him to retain all the ministries previously held by him, speculation that his wings will be clipped notwithstanding.

Mamata, fondly called ‘didi’, had all along been insisting that she be given the Railways Ministry, now that Lalu Prasad does not figure in the Cabinet. She got what she wanted.

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