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New Govt in cabinet crisis; DMK offers outside support; Nc sulks
New Delhi/Chennai, May 21 (IANS):
Published on 22 May. 2009 1:21 AM IST
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Crisis managers within the Congress were making last-ditch efforts Thursday night to persuade the DMK to stay within the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) after the Tamil Nadu party, dissatisfied over the allocation of ministerial berths, threatened to give outside support to the new government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi telephoned DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi to soothe his ruffled feathers after he demanded seven ministerial berths, including three at the cabinet level. The compromise formula, according to Congress insiders, was that the party would stick to the pattern in the earlier dispensation of two cabinet berths and five at the minister of state (MoS) level, but with changed portfolios. After talks between the Congress and DMK ran into rough weather, the latter Thursday evening announced outside support to the UPA and indicated it may not attend the swearing in of the new government Friday. DMK leader T.R. Baalu, who was transport minister in the outgoing cabinet, announced after day-long negotiations with top Congress leaders that his party was prepared to support the government from outside. “After discussions with the prime minister, we have decided to support the Congress from outside. Our leader Karunanidhi will go back to Chennai tomorrow (Friday) and will hold discussions with the party,” he said. Meanwhile, a DMK MP, privy to the talks, said the party MPs were returning to Chennai Friday morning and wouldn’t attend the swearing in of the new UPA government in the evening. The DMK MP said the party wanted three cabinet berths, two of MoS independent charge) and two of MoS. However, the Congress was willing to give two cabinet and five MoS berths - what it had earlier. “It is a question of numbers,” said the DMK MP, referring to the improved Lok Sabha tally of the Tamil Nadu party - to 18 this time from 16 earlier. Congress spokesman Nedurumalli Janardhana Reddy said: “Whatever we proposed, they did not accept and wanted more. So they said they will support from outside, but it does not mean that dialogue with them is over. “We are still discussing with them,” he said. Some DMK leaders are hoping there would be no repeat of the 2004 episode. In 2004, within 48 hours of the UPA ministry being sworn in, the DMK threatened to pull out its nominees on the ground that the promised portfolios were not allotted to its members. At that time, DMK leader M. Karunanidhi categorically said that continuation of DMK ministers in the government depends on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He said the DMK ministers will not assume charge if the portfolio allocation issue was not resolved and showed the media the written agreement between him and the Congress general secretary. His complaint then was that the Congress did not allot DMK the Ministry of Shipping, Ministry of State of Finance with the Revenue Department and the Department of Personnel. Swearing-in today With Singh set to be sworn in tomorrow for the second term, Congress negotiators led by senior leader Pranab Mukherjee are grappling with the issue. A meeting slated this morning between Singh and the President on government formation was deferred apparently because the list of the Council of Ministers was yet to be finalised. Indications are that Mukherjee is likely to get Finance portfolio while P Chidambaram and A K Antony are expected to retain Home and Defence respectively. Among the probable names doing rounds for some of the key ministries are Kapil Sibal for Human Resource Development replacing Arjun Singh, who is likely to be accommodated in a gubernatorial post. Salman Khurshid is likely to get Minority Affairs ministry, held by A R Antulay, who was defeated in the elections. A tussle is reportedly on wresting the Railway Ministry, held by RJD chief Lalu Prasad who is unlikely to find a berth in Manmohan Singh’s second innings. Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is eyeing the Railway portfolio as also the DMK. The name of Kamal Nath is being mentioned for the External Affairs portfolio. DMK is said to be keen on five cabinet berths and four ministers of state slots. It is said to be eyeing the Health, Telecom, Power, Surface Transport and Railways ministries. It wants ministries to be given for debutant MPs Azhagiri and Kanimozhi, children of Karunanidhi, Dayanidhi Maran and A Raja and also for new entrants T K Elangovan, Helen Davidson and Jagatrakshakan, a third-term MP. Besides Banerjee, probables names in Trinamool Congress include Dinesh Trivedi, Sudip Bandhopadhyay, Sultan Ahmed and Mukul Roy. The names of Sushilkumar Shinde and V Kishore Chandra Deo are doing the rounds for the post of the Speaker. Other Congress probables include those comprising the ‘young brigade’ of Milind Deora, Sachin Pilot, Naveen Jindal, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Jitin Prasada. UPA sources said the formula being mentioned for allocation would be one Cabinet and one MoS for seven MPs. While the Congress appears to be high on its victory, its allies feel the party has been trying to exert itself to the detriment of the spirit of the pre-poll alliance. Even the National Conference on Thursday night appeared to be upset with the Congress for not communicating to it yet whether party president Farooq Abdullah will be part of the Union Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who is to be sworn in on Friday. Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said that the NC is not hankering for any post but it would have been nice if the Congress informed the party whether his father is “in or out.” National Conference, a Congress ally in UPA, has three MPs while one Independent from Ladakh has pledged support to the party and Farooq Abdullah was widely tipped to get a berth in the Union Cabinet. Farooq Abdullah, a NC stalwart and former chief minister, said he has not been told anything yet about getting a berth in the Union Cabinet. Farooq said he is proceeding to South Africa as scheduled on Friday as part of the Indian Cricket Board delegation to witness the last stage of the ongoing IPL cricket tournament.

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