New Delhi: Two days after results were announced for five legislative assemblies, hectic political activity is preceding cabinet formation.
All eyes are on West Bengal and Kerala. In the eastern state, there is a strong likelihood that the Congress would join the cabinet headed by Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee.
In Kerala, the slender victory margin and the heavy dependence of the Congress on two of its key allies will complicate cabinet formation, though the Congress seems to have settled the leadership issue by opting for Oommen Chandy.
Banerjee, who is expected to be sworn in as the chief minister of West Bengal on 18 May, the first non-Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) chief minister in 34 years, is scheduled to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi late at night on Sunday or early Monday morning. Although Banerjee has invited her ally Congress to be a part of the government, the latter has not made an official announcement yet.
Power play: Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee (left) with Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee in Kolkata on Saturday.
According to a Congress leader familiar with the developments, Banerjee will discuss distribution of portfolios with Gandhi and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Banerjee, who had blown hot and cold over her ties with the Congress in the past, has not sent any signals of “confrontation” despite winning a clear majority on her own in the state assembly, the leader cited earlier said on condition of anonymity.
Even after the Union government raised petroleum prices on Saturday, Banerjee has so far avoided any comment, unlike in the past, when she has vocally distanced herself from such actions. The TMC has won 184 seats, while the Congress managed 42, leaving just 62 for the Left parties in the 294 member assembly.
In Tamil Nadu, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) general secretary J. Jayalalithaa, who led her party to a landslide victory in the assembly elections, will be sworn-in as Tamil Nadu chief minister for a third term.
Jayalalithaa, who fought the 13 April elections in alliance with actor-turned-politician Vijayakant-led Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK), has announced that she would not share power with anyone. The DMDK has won 29 seats, while the AIADMK has 150 in the 234-member assembly.
Some Congress leaders in the national capital indicated that Jayalalithaa’s landslide victory and the DMK’s rout may change the power equation at the national level, too.
Gandhi’s “courtesy call” to Jayalalithaa congratulating her at the victory has triggered speculation about a possible realignment. But a Congress general secretary who did not want to be quoted said that it was too early to make such conclusions from the phone call. But he admitted that the party was “relieved” of the “pressure politics” of the DMK.
Jayalalithaa, 63, will take oath as chief minister at 12.15pm on Monday at the University of Madras Centenary Building, chief secretary S. Malathi announced in Chennai after the AIADMK chief met governor S.S. Barnala and staked her claim to form government.
According to a Raj Bhavan release, Jayalalithaa will have 33 ministers in her cabinet and she will hold key portfolios of police and home, among others.
Earlier, she was elected unanimously leader of the AIADMK legislature party. Emerging from her meeting with Barnala, Jayalalilthaa told reporters that her immediate priority would be to restore law and order and bring back the state economy on the rails.
After an initial confusion, the Congress unit in Kerala announced that Chandy, the leader of the opposition in the outgoing assembly, will be chief minister. Earlier, state unit president Ramesh Chennithala, who had indicated he was in the race for the top post, dramatically exited.
Critics believe that settling the leadership issue would be far easier, compared with formation of the cabinet because the Congress could only manage 38 seats on its own and is crucially dependent on its major allies, the Indian Union Muslim League and Kerala Congress (Mani), who together won 29 seats in the 140-member state assembly.
“The allies will call the shots both in government formation and policy decisions,” said N.P. Chekkutty, executive editor of Thejus newspaper.
The close defeat of the Left Democratic Front has triggered a crisis within the CPM. Having inspired the spirited fightback of outgoing chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan, who was expelled from the politburo for indiscipline, is expected to claim a greater stake in the organization. The party politburo meeting scheduled for Monday is likely to discuss this development as well as address growing concerns voiced by sections of the party.
PTI contributed to this story.