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Congress close to finalizing new formula on berth sharing

Congress close to finalizing new formula on berth sharing
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First Published: Wed, May 20 2009. 01 06 AM IST

Choices galore: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Raveendran / AFP
Choices galore: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Raveendran / AFP
Updated: Wed, May 20 2009. 01 06 AM IST
New Delhi: On a day Uttar Pradesh’s ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and opposition Samajwadi Party (SP) extended unsolicited support to a Congress-led government even before it formally staked a claim, the party on Tuesday moved a step closer to finalizing a new formula for sharing cabinet berths with its pre-poll allies.
According to a senior party leader, who was also a minister in the previous government but did not want to be identified, the Congress leadership was contemplating a formula—one cabinet post for seven MPs—for distributing cabinet berths. Party leaders have already clarified, though not officially, that the party would not share power with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the SP, who chose to fight the elections alone.
Choices galore: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Raveendran / AFP
“We welcome support of all secular parties,” Congress general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said, adding that details about sharing power would be worked out in its meeting with pre-poll allies such as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Trinamool Congress (TC), the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the National Conference (NC) on Thursday.
The alliance won 262 seats in the elections, with the Congress’ own tally at 206—its best performance since 1991.
“With this tally, we are in a position to have our way in government formation, unlike in the past when we were at the mercy of the allies. We are not keen to give away too many key ministries to the allies. But we will have to make some compromises also,” said the leader, who did not want to be identified.
Manmohan Singh, the caretaker prime minister, is said to be eager on senior ministers such as Pranab Mukherjee (external affairs), P. Chidambaram (home) and A.K. Antony (defence).
However, according to his close aides who did not want to be identified, Mukherjee would, given a choice, prefer to continue as finance minister, the other portfolio he has been in charge of since Chidambaram was shifted to the home ministry.
Going by the formula, the NCP, which had the agriculture, food and civil aviation ministries, may not get two cabinet portfolios as it has won only nine seats.
“(Trinamool Congress chief) Mamata (who has 19 MPs) will be given freedom to choose portfolios, and DMK (which has 18) is expected to be given three cabinet posts and three ministers of state,” another Congress leader said on condition of anonymity. The NC, which won three seats from Jammu and Kashmir, may not be part of the government, he said. There are also moves to separate portfolios such as steel and fertilizers, commerce and industry as well as shipping and surface transport.
“Although the infrastructure ministries could be divided among the Congress and its allies, (Congress) party is keen to keep civil aviation and surface transport with us,” the leader added.
Although there were suggestions from a section of Congress leaders to offer the Lok Sabha Speaker’s post to RJD’s Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, the two party leaders separately maintained that no discussion took place on that front.
Meanwhile, the Congress parliamentary party, or CPP, that met in Parliament’s central hall on Tuesday, elected Manmohan Singh as its leader, before approaching the President to formally stake claim. Singh is expected to meet President Pratibha Patil on Wednesday after a meeting of the Congress with its pre-poll allies. The elected Congress members of Parliament also chose party president Sonia Gandhi as CPP chairperson.
liz.m@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, May 20 2009. 01 06 AM IST