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THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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N A T I O N

Now, Congmen battle it out for berths
New Delhi, May 25
Having bought peace with their allies over sharing of ministerial berths, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi are now struggling to deal with the competing claims of their own party MPs who are lobbying hard for plum portfolios.
(From left) Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P Chidambaram and Foreign Minister SM Krishna after assuming charge in New Delhi on Monday.
(From left) Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P Chidambaram and Foreign Minister SM Krishna after assuming charge in New Delhi on Monday. Tribune photos: Mukesh Aggarwal

Five Cabinet ministers take charge, list priorities
New Delhi, May 25
India's new coalition government got down to business today with five of the six key Cabinet ministers formally assuming charge and holding meetings with senior officials. It was a busy day for External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, with North Korea testing a nuclear weapon and a clash at a gurdwara in the Austrian capital Vienna triggering violence in Punjab. 



EARLIER STORIES

Cabinet Berths
Azhagiri upbeat, Kanimozhi upset
Chennai, May 25
While Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi’s son Azhagiri appears to be heading for a Cabinet berth, his daughter Kanimozhi seems to be upset with the offer of a Minister of State and efforts are on to persuade her to join the ministry.

‘Security scenario challenging’
AK Antony New Delhi, May 25
Strengthening of the national security apparatus along with strong infrastructure development in the north-east and the border areas will be a top priority, said AK Antony, minutes after he had taken over as the Defence Minister here today.

Andhra Pradesh
17 first-timers in Reddy cabinet
Hyderabad, May 25
A blend of youth and experience marked the new Cabinet constituted by YS Rajasekhar Reddy who started his second innings as Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister after steering the Congress to a stupendous victory.

Black Money Issue
Explain denial of info: CIC to Advani
New Delhi, May 25
The Central Information Commission (CIC) has asked the office of the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha to explain the reasons for denying information about correspondence among L.K. Advani, the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister on the issue of “black money” stashed in Swiss banks.

BJP relegated for distant fourth in UP
New Delhi, May 25
The BJP’s vote share - already fallen considerably in the 2004 general elections and 2007 assembly elections - fell further in the recently concluded general election in Uttar Pradesh, bringing it to distant fourth position and last on the ladder among all the four main contenders there.

DRDO hands over 16 Arjun tanks to Army
Chennai, May 25
The third set of 16 Arjun Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) equipped with advanced technology, including enhanced firing range, was handed over to the Indian Army today, marking the distribution of the first Arjun Regiment.

Faridabad boy tops IIT exam
New Delhi, May 25
Boys outshone girls in the IIT Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE) this year as over 10,000 students qualified the tough test with Nitin Jain from Faridabad topping the exam.

SC grants bail to Binayak Sen
New Delhi, May 25
The Supreme Court today granted bail to civil rights activist Dr Binayak Sen, whose incarceration for the past two years in Chhattisgarh on the charges of abetting and aiding Naxalite activities has evoked protests at national and international levels.

26/11
Lensman testifies against Kasab
Mumbai, May 25
A photographer and witness in the 26/11 terror attacks revealed today how Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab had confessed to the killing of the navigator of the hijacked fishing vessel Kuber in which 10 terrorists sailed to the city

 





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Now, Congmen battle it out for berths
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, May 25
Having bought peace with their allies over sharing of ministerial berths, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi are now struggling to deal with the competing claims of their own party MPs who are lobbying hard for plum portfolios.

The PM and Sonia Gandhi have first to deal with the contentious task of allocating portfolios to those Cabinet ministers who were sworn in last Friday. So far, only six ministers have been given portfolios. The two have also to accommodate the large number of Congress MPs who have virtually knocked down the doors in their effort to get a place in the expanded council of ministers, which may be sworn in tomorrow. It is learnt that more Cabinet ministers, ministers of state as well as junior ministers may be inducted in the second batch.

The Congress president and the PM had a prolonged meeting today as the duo attempted to draw up a list, which would have the right balance of youth and experience as well as caste and regional representation.The two are expected to meet again tomorrow morning to finalise the names of the remaining 40-odd ministers.

As it is, the decision to induct Cabinet ministers in batches has resulted in a lot of heart-burning in the Congress party. The sub-text of this exercise is that the first batch of 20, which includes two allies, are the A-listers while those who are sworn in subsequently fall in an inferior category.

Angry questions are being raised in the party over the induction of former Karnataka Chief Minister SM Krishna, who, according to Congress members, was responsible for the party’s downslide and the BJP’entry in this southern state.

Besides, there are other strong contenders from this state like Oscar Fernandes, Mallikarjun Kharge, a senior Dalit leader, and Muniappa, who might be difficult to overlook. This means a state which returned only six MPs to the Lok Sabha could end up being represented by five ministers in the Cabinet.

Similarly, Ghulam Nabi Azad is, so far, the lone representative from Jammu and Kashmir. But National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, who was initially not expected to get a ministerial berth, may find a place in the Cabinet. He is eyeing the tourism portfolio. Saifuddin Soz, president of the J&K Congress unit, also has a strong claim.

If this is the case with states where there are fewer MPs to choose from, the list of contenders from the other states is predictably long. Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress notched up a handsome tally of 21 MPs after years of being a bit player, wants to be rewarded with a good representation. The list of hopefuls here includes Sriprakash Jaiswal, Jitin Prasad, Salman Khursheed, Sanjay Singh and Ratna Singh. If UP is pushing its case, then Andhra Pradesh with 33 MPs and Rajasthan with 21 winners has even a stronger claim.

While the next batch of ministers is still being finalised, the task of allocating the remaining Cabinet berths is also incomplete. Kapil Sibal is tipped for the Commerce or the Human Resource Development Ministry while Kamal Nath is trying hard to retain Commerce. Ambika Soni is likely to get charge of Health Ministry while Anand Sharma is expected to head the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. 

Centre may ease rice export curbs
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 25
Sharad PawarUnion Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on Monday hinted that the government may ease curbs on rice exports after assessing the foodgrain situation in the country. Also, the government was in no hurry to allow wheat exports, he said. Pawar, who took charge of the ministry today, said India may allow import of raw sugar in the next season but would not encourage import of refined sugar.

Presiding over a meeting with key officials of the ministry, Pawar called for working towards bringing about a “second green revolution” in the country -- a replica of the 1970s and 1980s initiative that combined irrigation and good seeds to make India self-sufficient in food production. In 2007-08, the food grain output in India was 230.67 million tonne and Agriculture Ministry estimates suggest that it could be higher this year due to good rice production.

The Maratha strongman stressed that several initiatives had been taken to improve food production and measures must continue to ensure enhanced productivity. About the promise of providing 25 kg rice or wheat at Rs 3 per kg to BPL families, he said: “The government is yet to take a decision... We will fulfill the promise.” 

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Five Cabinet ministers take charge, list priorities

New Delhi, May 25
India's new coalition government got down to business today with five of the six key Cabinet ministers formally assuming charge and holding meetings with senior officials.

It was a busy day for External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, with North Korea testing a nuclear weapon and a clash at a gurdwara in the Austrian capital Vienna triggering violence in Punjab. “We are determined to ensure that the perpetrators of this completely mindless and wanton violence (in Vienna) are brought to justice,” Krishna told reporters at his office.

Besides Krishna, who has been inducted into Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Cabinet for the first time, P Chidambaram, Sharad Pawar and AK Antony returned to their respective ministries — Home, Agriculture and Defence — for the first time after taking oath on Friday.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the senior most Congress leader in the government, assumed charge of his portfolio, which he first handled over a quarter century ago when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister.Mukherjee, who said on Saturday that his priority would be to put the Indian economy back on track, met senior officials to start work on the national Budget, which is likely to be presented in July.

He held a series of meetings with senior officials and reviewed the status of various programmes and issues related to all departments. "Issues relating to the forthcoming Budget were also discussed," said an official statement.

Manmohan Singh set a business-like tone for his new government on Saturday at a meeting of his ministers at his Race Course Road residence. Only six of the 19 Cabinet ministers have been allotted portfolios.

The sixth, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, is set to return to New Delhi from her home in Kolkata.

On Monday, dressed in light grey bandgala suit, minister Krishna stepped into his South Block office amid a swarm of scribes and photographers. As Krishna took charge, North Korea conducted a second nuclear test, and Nepal saw a new Prime Minister sworn in after weeks of political uncertainty. Speaking to the media, Krishna condemned North Korea's nuclear test and its adverse effect on peace and security. He congratulated Nepal's new premier Madhav Kumar Nepal and hoped that the stalled peace process would now move forward quickly.

The shootout in Vienna involving rival Sikh groups elicited strong condemnation from him. “We are determined to ensure that the perpetrators of this completely mindless and wanton violence are brought to justice,” he said. Increasing security concerns in the country's neighbourhood figured prominently in Antony's priority list as he took charge as the Defence Minister for a second term. Infrastructure development in the north-east and border areas, modernisation of the armed forces and welfare of the troops were some of the priorities he outlined. — IANS

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Cabinet Berths
Azhagiri upbeat, Kanimozhi upset
N Ravikumar
Tribune News Service

Chennai, May 25
While Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi’s son Azhagiri appears to be heading for a Cabinet berth, his daughter Kanimozhi seems to be upset with the offer of a Minister of State and efforts are on to persuade her to join the ministry.

Kanimozhi is keen on getting a Cabinet berth but the party is said to have decided that Azhagiri, A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran would be its nominees in the Cabinet accepting the Congress offer. Kanimozhi does not have experience in party work or state administration and had not shown her capability as an MP.

Though Azhagiri is a first time MP, he has served the party for a long time and runs it in the southern districts, even at tougher times, when the area was a bastion of the AIADMK when its founder MGR was alive. After he became the organising secretary for the party in South Tamil Nadu, he has ensured a near sweep for the party in the Parliament elections. Hence, the party has decided to make him a Cabinet minister, in accordance with his rank in the party.

A Raja, a Dalit leader, has his roots in the Dravidar Kazhagam, the parent body of the Dravidian parties. Since, all senior leaders including Karunanidhi have their roots in the DK, they seem to have opted for Raja, who has a better understanding of the party’s “anti-Brahmin” moorings.

Maran is a known face of the DMK at the national level and has earned a good reputation for himself as the IT and Communications Minister. The party may push T R Baalu for the post of Deputy Speaker, since he earned the wrath of many people for sincerely following the party leader’s wish in the implementation of the Sethusamudram Canal Project.

It is said that Azhagiri may take Fertilisers portfolio, Raja, IT, and Maran Textiles. The party is likely to get four other berths all at the level of Ministers of State rank. Earlier, there were reports that Kanimozhi could be MoS with independent charge, a plea that has reportedly not been conceded by the Congress.

Meanwhile, Azhagiri, left for New Delhi, amid reports that the DMK has sent its list of nominees for ministerial berths to the Prime Minister. The party also announced its Nagapattinam MP A K S Vijayan as Parliamentary party leader in the Lok Sabha, while first time MP T K S Elangovan is made the whip. Earlier, the party has appointed DMK’s Parliamentary party leader in both Houses in its executive last week.

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‘Security scenario challenging’
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 25
Strengthening of the national security apparatus along with strong infrastructure development in the north-east and the border areas will be a top priority, said AK Antony, minutes after he had taken over as the Defence Minister here today.

Referring to India’s troubled neighbourhood in Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, he said the security scenario around India was becoming more and more challenging.

Developments around us are a cause of serious concern, he said. Spelling out his priorities, he said infrastructure development coupled with modernisation of the armed forces and welfare of the troops was of utmost importance. He said his ministry had taken note of the rapid infrastructure development by China on its side of the border. The other focus will be on procuring equipment in the coastal areas.

On challenges for India, he said the nation needed to push modernisation of armed forces and this did not mean procuring equipment only.

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Andhra Pradesh
17 first-timers in Reddy cabinet
Tribune News Service

Hyderabad, May 25
A blend of youth and experience marked the new Cabinet constituted by YS Rajasekhar Reddy who started his second innings as Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister after steering the Congress to a stupendous victory.

The 35-member Cabinet, which includes 17 first-timers, was sworn-in here today. Governor ND Tiwari administered oath of office. Chief Minister and other top officials were present at the ceremony. Various factors like performance, caste equations, regional and district representation were taken into consideration while constituting the Cabinet.

As many six women, including three of the outgoing ministry, found place in the new Cabinet. A lion’s share of Cabinet berths was given to weaker sections with 10 ministers belonging to Backward Classes, four Scheduled Castes and one Scheduled Tribe. There were 17 new faces in the Cabinet, including three women and a Muslim. A notable feature was that none of the 14 defeated ministers of the outgoing Cabinet figured in the new ministry. Besides, some veteran ministers, including K Jana Reddy (home), JC Diwakar Reddy (panchayat raj) and R Damodar Reddy (IT and communications), were left out. Meanwhile, sources said the government chief whip N Kirankumar Reddy would be the new Speaker of the Assembly. Election for the Speaker’s office would be held on June 2.

Among those who retained in the ministry were K Rosaiah, D Prasada Rao, B Satyanarayana, P Lakshmaiah, K Lakshminarayana, A Ramnarayana Reddy, J Geetha Reddy and N Raghuveera Reddy.

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Black Money Issue
Explain denial of info: CIC to Advani

New Delhi, May 25
The Central Information Commission (CIC) has asked the office of the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha to explain the reasons for denying information about correspondence among L.K. Advani, the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister on the issue of “black money” stashed in Swiss banks.

“The Commission directs you to offer comments on this complaint...clearly giving justification for denial of information,” Deputy secretary at CIC Pankaj Shreyaskar wrote to the Public Information Officer, Office of the Leader of Opposition on the complaint of activist Subhash Agrawal.

Agrawal had filed an RTI application in the Office of Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani seeking detailed information on the letter written by the former Home Minister to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister’s reply to it.

He demanded copy of the letter, its reply, file notings and other relevant documents on the issue of “black money” in the Swiss banks under the RTI Act. Since there was no reply from the office of the Leader of Opposition, Agrawal filed complaint at the CIC.

The matter surfaced during the pre-election debates when BJP leader Advani promised to make efforts to bring back the “black money” stashed in Swiss accounts. — PTI 

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BJP relegated for distant fourth in UP
Faraz Ahmad
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 25
The BJP’s vote share - already fallen considerably in the 2004 general elections and 2007 assembly elections - fell further in the recently concluded general election in Uttar Pradesh, bringing it to distant fourth position and last on the ladder among all the four main contenders there.

The BJP had been relegated to the third position in 2004 and 2007 polls pulled down by the two main forces the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Now it has been relegated to the last position, according to statistics collected by the party.

The party won 10 seats in UP this time and even together with its allies - the RLD that won five and the JD(U) that won zero - the NDA tally remained stuck at 15. In 2004, too ,it had won 10 seats but on its own.

It recorded a voting percentage of 17.5 per cent, while the RLD got 3.2 per cent vote and the JD(U) 0.5 per cent.

If calculated separately, the voting percentage was only 0.5 per cent less than the Congress that secured 18 per cent votes and won 21 seats. But BJP analysts prefer to their percentage at 21, including votes of the RLD and the JD(U).

But the Congress got 18 per cent vote and won 21 seats.

For all the hype against Mulayam Singh Yadav, his party still got the highest percentage of seats 23 and same per cent of votes too.

The BSP, on the other hand, got 27 per cent votes but got only 20 seats. That means the BSP was the biggest loser in this election.

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DRDO hands over 16 Arjun tanks to Army

Chennai, May 25
The third set of 16 Arjun Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) equipped with advanced technology, including enhanced firing range, was handed over to the Indian Army today, marking the distribution of the first Arjun Regiment.

Built by DRDO's Avadi-based Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE), which will manufacture a total of 124 Arjun MBTs at a cost of Rs 1,760 crore, the Regiment was flagged off by DRDO's Chief Controller, R&D, A Sivathanu Pillai at the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) near here.

Of the total 124, CVRDE had already delivered 29 MBTs in two instalments till March this year. Rest of the Arjun tanks would be delivered by March 2010, Pillai said. Director, CVRDE, S Sundaresh said Arjun MBT was a “complex weapons project and an excellent battleworthy product”.

Arjun tanks can fire at a range of 3-4 km and have great mobility and are equipped with high protection facility. — PTI 

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Faridabad boy tops IIT exam

New Delhi, May 25
Boys outshone girls in the IIT Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE) this year as over 10,000 students qualified the tough test with Nitin Jain from Faridabad topping the exam.

While 3,84,977 students, including 98,028 girls, appeared in the test, a total of 10,035 students, including 1,048 girls, qualified. Around 3.13 per cent boys qualified the test while girls failed to put up a good performance with only 1.07 per cent of them clearing it.

The students, who cracked the test, will get admission into 15 IITs, IT-BHU and ISM Dhanbad, which will offer 8,295 seats. These institutes had offered 6,332 seats last year.

The number increased as two new IITs will commence this year while the existing ones would accommodate an additional OBC student under the quota.

“There will be more seats in the IITs this year as the institutes will continue implementation of OBC quota. Besides, two new IITs, one in Mandi in Himachal Pradesh and another in Indore in Madhya Pradesh, will start functioning,” IIT Guwahati director Prof Gautam Baruah said. Jain, who topped the test, was a student of Modern Vidya Niketan in Faridabad. Shubham Tulsiani from Bombay zone secured the second position while the third slot went to Gopi Sivakanth, an OBC candidate, from Chennai zone.

Zone wise, the highest number of 3,379 students have qualified from Bombay followed by 2,426 from Madras, 1,524 from Delhi, 928 from Kharagpur, 912 from Roorkee, 603 from Kanpur and 263 from Guwahati. Among the girls, Kritika Singh from IIT Kanpur zone emerged topper with an all-India rank of 56. About 176 candidates wrote the test from Dubai centre, of which seven of them qualified. — PTI

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SC grants bail to Binayak Sen
R Sedhuraman
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, May 25
The Supreme Court today granted bail to civil rights activist Dr Binayak Sen, whose incarceration for the past two years in Chhattisgarh on the charges of abetting and aiding Naxalite activities has evoked protests at national and international levels.

"We know the case. He has been in jail for more than two years. Anyway, if he is found guilty ultimately he will be sent back to jail," a Bench comprising Justices Markandey Katju and Deepak Verma observed while granting bail without allowing counsel for Sen, a paediatrician, or the state government to argue their case.

"Please sit down, there is no need for any argument," the Bench asked senior counsel Mukul Rohtagi, who appeared for the state.

The trial court may decide the bail conditions, the apex court said while disposing of Sen's bail plea within seconds. Sen, vice-president of the Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), has been jailed in Raipur since May 14, 2007.

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26/11
Lensman testifies against Kasab

Mumbai, May 25
A photographer and witness in the 26/11 terror attacks revealed today how Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab had confessed to the killing of the navigator of the hijacked fishing vessel Kuber in which 10 terrorists sailed to the city.

Photographer AM Takalkar (26) told Special Judge ML Tahilyani that he was present as a “pancha” (witness) when Kasab recorded his initial statement confessing to killing sailor Amarsinh Solanki.

Takalkar, who is a freelancer, told public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam that he heard Kasab recounting how he had slit Solanki's throat. The police had recorded Kasab's first statement at the Nair Hospital on November 27 last year, a day after the launch of the Mumbai attack that left over 170 people dead.

Later, they guided the vessel, fitted with sophisticated navigational and communication equipments, to Mumbai. Around three nautical miles from the shore, they boarded a motorised rubber dingy to land in the bay at Colaba, opposite the railway officers’ quarters, Badhwar Park, the day of the terror attacks.

Takalkar, who identified Kasab sitting in the dock, also said police inspector Marde and police sub-inspector C. Jadhav requested him to be a witness to which he agreed.

Takalkar said when he was taken to the trauma care ward of the hospital, the accused was sitting on the bed and identified himself as Kasab.

He further told the special court that during the recording of his statement, Kasab said the 10-member terror group had used Kuber to reach Mumbai. — IANS

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BRIEFLY

Nobody can tinker with National Anthem: SC
SHILLONG
: The Supreme Court (SC) today asked producer-director Ram Gopal Varma to challenge the censor board’s refusal to clear a song, based on the national anthem, before the film tribunal. A Bench comprising Justices VS Sirpurkar and RM Lodha asked the tribunal to dispose of the case within a month. The Bench, however, observed that “nobody has any right to tinker with the national anthem.” — TNS

Lapang wins trust vote
SHILLONG
: Meghalaya Chief Minister D.D. Lapang heading the Congress-led coalition United Meghalaya Alliance on Monday won the trust vote on the floor of the assembly. Lapang, having support of 43 MLAs in the 60-member house, won the motion through voice vote. The proceedings were presided over by Deputy Speaker Sanbor Shullai. After the trust motion, Congress legislator and former minister Charles Pyngrope was elected Speaker unopposed. — PTI

Mainpuri seat
LUCKNOW
: Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav would resign from Bharthana assembly seat and retain Mainpuri seat, which he won in the recent Lok Sabha polls, party sources said here. After the resignation of Mulayam as MLA, his brother Shivpal Singh Yadav will hold the post of the leader of the opposition in Vidhan Sabha. A decision to this effect was taken at a party legislators’ meeting here, they said. — TNS

Karan Singh’s wife dead
New DelhI
:Yasho Rajya Lakshmi, wife of former Union Minister Karan Singh, died after a brief illness on Monday. She was the granddaughter of Maharaja Mohan Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana, the last Prime Minister of Nepal from the Rana dynasty of that country. Rajya Lakshmi was an active social worker working for mentally challenged children under the aegis of the All-India Women's Conference. The organisation was founded by her. She was also connected with the Delhi society for the welfare of special children. — TNS

Vijayan DMK’s LS leader
CHENNAI
: The DMK on Monday announced that its Nagapattinam MP, A.K.S. Vijayan has been appointed as the parliamentary party leader in the Lok Sabha, while first time MP T.K.S. Elangovan would be the party whip. According to a DMK release, E.G. Sukavanam is the deputy whip while K.K. Venugopal and Adi Shankar have been appointed Treasurer and Secretary, respectively. Earlier, former Union Minister T.R. Baalu was appointed DMK’s parliamentary party leader in both Houses last week. — PTI 

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