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Rahul Gandhi likely to join new cabinet

Rahul Gandhi likely to join new cabinet
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First Published: Sun, May 17 2009. 11 39 PM IST
Updated: Sun, May 17 2009. 11 39 PM IST
New Delhi: Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi will likely be inducted into the Union cabinet after winning credit for the success of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in the 15th general election, party politicians said.
Gandhi, 38, is expected to take charge of the rural development ministry, at least two senior Congress politicians familiar with the situation said on condition of anonymity, as the party and the coalition prepare to take office for a second successive term.
Holding the rural development ministry would help the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family oversee government initiatives in the countryside that is home to two-thirds of India’s population. The UPA has put rural development at the forefront of its policy agenda.
“This would also help him to build the party organization,” said one of the politicians.
Other members of the young generation of Congress politicians such as Jyotiraditya Scindia and Jitin Prasada, who are already ministers, are expected to join the new government. Sachin Pilot and Priya Dutt, son and daughter of late Congress politicians Rajesh Pilot and Sunil Dutt, respectively, may also be inducted.
The names of potential ministers surfaced as the Congress made the first moves towards government formation by holding a meeting chaired by party president Sonia Gandhi at her residence, 10, Janpath.
The new government should be in place by 2 June after the term of the current Lok Sabha expires.
The so-called core group of Congress leaders also discussed possible alliance partners that will take the Congress-led UPA to the majority mark of 272 in the Lok Sabha.
The UPA won 261 seats in the general election, performing better than expected in the face of exit and opinion polls that predicted a fractured mandate, leading to concerns of political uncertainty. The Congress on its own won 206 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha.
The accent is likely to be on choosing as partners smaller parties and independents, who will be more easy to accommodate in the government, as opposed to bigger political groupings.
As a result, the coalition’s stability can be ensured with fewer partners and the Congress, given its own standing, will be in a position to prevail on cabinet decisions, analysts said. This will be unlike 2004, when the coalition was formed with 13 alliance partners and the Congress had to cede key economic portfolios to partners.
Key allies such as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP, 9) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK, 18), who were in charge of important portfolios, failed to match their last tally. While the NCP had three ministries, food, agriculture and civil aviation as well as civil aviation in the outgoing cabinet, the DMK had seven, including three cabinet ministers.
Expectations are that Mamata Banerjee, chief of the Trinamool Congress, which won 19 of the 35 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal in an alliance with the Congress, would be rewarded with an important cabinet berth.
“We are not really in the game of any kind of bargain. There is no question of any kind of condition also. We want a stable government,” Trinamool spokesperson Dinesh Trivedi said in Kolkata.
Although the DMK has expressed its desire to retain the information technology and telecom ministry, Congress leaders said the party may not concur.
The prospects of Rashtriya Janata Dal chief and railway minister Lalu Prasad, who parted ways with the UPA ahead of the general election and whose party fared poorly in Bihar, his power base, received a boost after Sonia Gandhi personally telephoned him and invited him for the cabinet meeting on Monday.
According to Congress general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi, the Congress working committee, which also met on Sunday afternoon, did not discuss alliances. “The Congress parliamentary party will meet on Tuesday (19 May)... There would be a meeting of pre-poll alliance partners after that to discuss the future plans and strategies.”
liz.m@livemint.com
PTI contributed to this story.
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First Published: Sun, May 17 2009. 11 39 PM IST