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New Delhi: The stage is set for today’s much-anticipated cabinet reshuffle with seven ministers stepping down to make way for newer, and possibly, younger faces.
The new ministers will take oath in the morning. A Rashtrapati Bhavan official said: “It will be held at 11.30 a.m.”
Ahead of the reshuffle, S M Krishna quit as external affairs minister, Ambika Soni stepped down as information and broadcasting minister, Subodh Kant Sahai resigned as tourism minister and Mukul Wasnik as social justice and empowerment minister.
The ministers of state who quit were Vincent Pala (water resources), Agatha Sangma (rural development) and Mahadeo Singh Khandela (tribal affairs). A Rashtrapati Bhavan communique Saturday evening said the resignations have been accepted.
Six ministers of the Trinamool Congress resigned last month when the party quit the ruling United Progressive Alliance and the government.
A vacancy was created when Vilasrao Deshmukh, who was minister for science and technology, died in August, while two cabinet berths vacated by DMK leaders A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran in the wake of the 2G spectrum allocation issue have not yet been filled up.
There is intense speculation whether Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has invited to join the government, would accept the offer. However, there is talk he may take on a more prominent role in the Congress party.
Gandhi met party president and his mother Sonia Gandhi Saturday amid talk that he is pushing to bring younger faces into the ministry.
The reshuffle today comes at a time when the UPA government is buffeted by allegations of corruption and comes ahead of the winter session of parliament to be held November-December.
The rejig is likely to be the last one before the 2014 general elections and comes days after the Manmohan Singh government shrugged off criticism of policy paralysis by ushering in a slew of economic reforms, including allowing FDI in multi-brand retail as well as deciding to open up the insurance and pensions sector to foreign investment.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is also hit by allegations of wrongdoing against president Nitin Gadkari, termed the reshuffle an “exercise in vain”.
Ambika Soni, Sahai and Wasnik met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday morning.
“I was asked if I would like to work in the party and naturally, if I would like to work in the party,” Soni told reporters.
Among the ministers who may be dropped are Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal and Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma. Jaiswal as well as Sahai had came under attack from the opposition on the coal blocks allocation.
Among the names doing the rounds as probable new faces to be inducted in the cabinet Sunday are of actor-turned politician Chiranjeevi from Andhra Pradesh and Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury, the brother of late Congress leader Abu Barkat Ghani Khan Choudhury, from Malda district of West Bengal.
Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) had joined the Congress last year. Some more Andhra MPs could also be added to the ministry, including former chief minister K Vijayabhaskara Reddy’s son K Suryaprakash Reddy.
West Bengal Congress leader, Deepa Dasmunsi, MP from Raiganj, is also being touted among the probables from the state as well as Pradeep Bhattacharya, state Congress chief, and Adi Ranjan Chowdhury, MP from Burhanpur.
There are several names being speculated as possible successors of Krishna, including Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, senior party MP Karan Singh, Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor and also Salman Khurshid.
Krishna is likely to work in Karnataka to strengthen the party ahead of state elections due next year. Speaking to reporters, the 80-year-old former chief minister of Karnataka said he had stepped down to make way for “younger blood”.
There is also speculation that Minister of State for Human Resource Development Daggubati Purandeswari, Visakhapatnam MP, could replace Anand Sharma as commerce minister.
Some ministers holding more than one portfolio, like Kapil Sibal, C P Joshi, Vayalar Ravi and Salman Khurshid, make be relieved of one ministry, while some ministers of state, like Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia, are likely to be elevated.
There is talk that Gujarat MP from Kheda, Dinsha Patel, minister of state for mines, could be elevated to cabinet rank. Gujarat goes to polls in December.