New Delhi: Telecommunications and information technology minister A. Raja could lose his portfolio in a cabinet reshuffle that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to undertake in the run-up to Parliament’s monsoon session that begins in July.
The Hindustan Times could not ascertain the reasoning behind Raja’s removal, which well-placed sources termed as imminent, barring last-minute glitches. However, the continued presence in the cabinet of the minister, who belongs to Congress coalition partner Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, could provide opposition partners with a valid reason to question the impartiality of the investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation into allegations of corruption in the allocation of spectrum for second-generation (2G) mobile services.
In 2008, the government allowed new entrants into 2G mobile services at terms that had been set several years ago, when the size of India’s wireless telecom market was small. Over the past few years, the number of mobile telephony connections in India has multiplied from 10.5 million in 2002 to 37 million in 2004 to 172 million in 2007 to 601 million currently. Opposition parties have alleged that the government undervalued licences and spectrum when it allowed new entrants into the business in 2008.
Photo: Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
Prime Minister Singh will have to take DMK chief M. Karunanidhi’s concurrence before shifting Raja out of the ministry or dropping him from the team. Still, it should be possible for him to discuss the issue on equal terms with Karunanidhi, whose government in Tamil Nadu depends on Congress support.
At his 24 May press conference, Singh neither defended Raja nor accepted the charges levelled against him. Still, he promised to act if something incriminating emerged from the CBI investigation: “If I come to know that there is any involvement at any level in corruption, we will take action,” he said.
Meanwhile, it isn’t clear if the Congress’ understanding with smaller parties for the Rajya Sabha polls will be reflected in Singh’s reshuffle. The Hindustan Times has learnt that the proposed “mid-sized” reshuffle might see the induction of new faces, including perhaps a Muslim of cabinet rank.
The Congress is under pressure to increase the community’s “share” in the cabinet; Ghulam Nabi Azad, the party’s sole Muslim cabinet minister, is seen to be representing Jammu and Kashmir, where he served as chief minister.
Among the Muslim hopefuls is Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Rahman Khan. A change in his work profile would depend on the ruling combine’s ability to retain the elected office he’d vacate in the house where the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is in a minority.
The reshuffle will also afford Singh an opportunity to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor. Another junior slot could go to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress whose choice set surprisingly, includes, besides her party members, former Janata Dal (United) leader Digvijay Singh, now an independent member of the Lok Sabha.
Often in trouble for his proclivity to speak out of turn, environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s fate rests on the renewal of his Rajya Sabha membership. On that, Congress president Sonia Gandhi will have as much say as the PM. On a recent visit to China, the minister embarrassed New Delhi by questioning its distrust of that country’s companies seeking to enter the Indian market.