M A I N   N E W S

Allies bargain hard for key portfolios
Swearing-in today
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 21
The discussions over government formation remained inconclusive till late tonight as Congress leaders were involved in tough negotiations with its allies who were bargaining hard for key ministerial berths. However, the Manmohan Singh-led coalition government will be sworn in tomorrow at 5.30 pm, a Rashtrapati Bhavan spokesman said here tonight.

While NCP leader Sharad Pawar declared this evening that his party would be joining the Congress-led government, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Laloo Prasad Yadav proved more difficult to tackle.

Senior Congress leaders Arjun Singh and R.K. Dhawan were closeted with him till late evening in an effort to mollify him. Mr Yadav, whose party is expected to get six to seven ministerial berths, had originally asked for the home portfolio. He was now learnt to have scaled down his demand and instead sought the Railway Ministry. In addition, he has asked for the post of minister of state in the Home Ministry.

Mr Pawar, on the other hand, had been holding out as he was pitching for either the home or defence portfolio. Although the Congress made it known that it would prefer to retain the four key portfolios of home, finance, defence and external affairs, Mr Pawar gave his consent on joining the government after prolonged discussions with senior Congress leaders Pranab Mukherjee and Ahmed Patel.

Congress sources said the party attached great importance to the defence portfolio, given the fact that the Bofors case resurfaced during this election while the Congress,too, ran a tough campaign on the issue of defence purchases and the coffin scam. In view of the party’s reluctance to part with this ministry, Mr Pawar was being tipped for the Human Resource Development Ministry or the Food and Agriculture Ministry.

With all allies out to drive a hard bargain, Prime Minister designate Manmohan Singh spent the whole day confabulating with his colleagues at Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s residence while senior leaders were dispatched to talk to different alliance partners.

The Congress had suggested that they all followed the rule of thumb of allotting one ministerial berth per party for three to four MPs. By this account, the Congress would be entitled to 30-35 slots while the share of the allies would be around 20.

While Lok Janshakti leader Ram Vilas Paswan was a sure contender for a Cabinet spot, he,too, was sulking at the possibility of being denied the prized Railway Ministry. Former Prime Minister VP Singh called on him late tonight to placate him.

The DMK, having 15 MPs, was learnt to have asked for five ministerial berths, two Cabinet rank and three ministers of state.

The DMK’s nominees included first-time MP Dayanidhi Maran, son of late Murasoli Maran, T.R. Baalu, A.Raja and Subbulakshmi Jagadeesan.

As for the Congress party’s own nominees, it was stated, these would be finalised only after the party had finalised negotiations with the allies. Nevertheless,it was being stated that Dr Manmohan Singh might retain the finance portfolio to begin with while Mr Pranab Mukherjee could be the next Home Minister. Mr Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi was being mentioned for the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry and Mr Kamal Nath for the power portfolio.


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