Delhi: The new council of ministers
is likely to bear Manmohan Singh’s stamp and the focus will be on
performance, efficiency and accountability.
Tentatively, the number of ministers
taking oath on Friday will be restricted to 60.
The Prime Minister spent much time
today discussing government formation and is said to be of the view
that the new cabinet will have no space for sluggishness or
Manmohan is credited with the view
that between 2004 and 2009 the UPA functioned well though it faced
innumerable challenges from within and outside.
It worked more like a bureaucratic
machine than a political conglomerate. There were too many
lacklustre performances in the ministries of human resource
development and home (till P. Chidambaram took over). Ministers
differed with each other, sidelined juniors and few cared for
accountability, essential in a parliamentary democracy.
Manmohan, in fact, today got a glimpse
of the past during the last meeting of the cabinet with Lalu Prasad
leaving on a bitter note.
The cabinet had met to thank the
people of India as well as the Prime Minister for his excellent
work. Mani Shankar Aiyar spoke on behalf of the 16 ministers who
failed to make the 15th Lok Sabha. Ram Vilas Paswan bade goodbye to
Lalu Prasad spoke last and took on the
Congress for “insulting” him. He said that instead of thanking his
RJD for its unflinching support, Congress leaders Digvijay Singh,
Rajiv Shukla and Prithviraj Chavan had been criticising him in TV
studios. Pranab Mukherjee tried to pacify him, but Manmohan was
In Congress circles, there is a view
that the choice of finance minister will test Manmohan’s strength.
All eyes are on Sonia Gandhi: whether she rewards Manmohan with his
choice of minister.
Manmohan feels a professional rather
than a politician would be better suited for the job. So, Montek
Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission,
would fit the bill best.
The Prime Minister is said to be keen
to bring in fresh faces in the HRD, social justice, mines, food
processing and other ministries where incumbents have failed to live
up to expectations.
He is said to be eager to promote
ministers like Kapil Sibal, Ambika Soni, Prithviraj Chavan, Jairam
Ramesh and Anand Sharma who have performed well.
He would also like to have Chidambaram
continue as home minister and Pranab as foreign minister. But
outgoing commerce minister Kamal Nath is said to be eyeing finance
and external affairs and Sibal commerce or HRD.
Sources said Manmohan would insist on
Rahul Gandhi joining the government. The decision has been left to
Rahul, but Manmohan is apparently planning to personally request him
to take up the assignment.
Manmohan is also keen to bring Mamata
Banerjee into his cabinet because he feels that participation of all
pre-poll allies is key to the smooth functioning of “UPA II”. But
Mamata is said to be in a dilemma on whether to move to the Centre
or concentrate on Bengal politics.
The Trinamul chief came in for praise
from Pranab, who said at a Congress forum that he was deeply
impressed by her determination to crush the Left in Bengal.
The Congress is planning to set
stringent conditions for other UPA allies. It has decided that no
alliance minister will be given additional portfolios.
The Congress managers have worked out
that any party with seven MPs would be entitled to a cabinet and a
minister of state berth. The formula has been worked out by dividing
the magic figure of 272 MPs into 39 cabinet and 39 MoS berths
respectively. The Union cabinet cannot have more than 81 members,
including the Prime Minister.