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No reshuffling of finance minister

December 23, 2005 04:00 IST

While it is not clear when the proposed cabinet reshuffle will take place, one thing is certain: Finance Minister P Chidambaram will not be shifted.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has put off inducting former Reserve Bank of India Governor C Rangarajan into the government, fearing he might find the political demands on the finance ministry hard to handle.

Dr Singh reportedly told colleagues that he thought Chidambaram was doing a sterling job in handling the lobbies, interest groups and pressure groups that descended on the finance ministry routinely before the Budget and believed that Chidambaram's resoluteness had saved the government from many financial disasters.

"If Chidambaram had not been tough, it would all have come on the prime minister," said an advisor.

However, the prime minister has told confidants that he was unable to do justice to the foreign affairs portfolio and admitted the need for a full-time foreign minister.

Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee chief Salman Khurshid would have been the prime minister's choice, said sources, as after P M Sayeed's death there is no Muslim cabinet minister. However, Khurshid is not a Member of Parliament.

Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar's name was considered but the prime minister is wary of his self-confessed Left wing views.

Moreover, having a career diplomat in the foreign office leads to problems, as the appointment of K Natwar Singh proved.

Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal is keen on the job, but is not considered experienced enough to handle it.

The power ministry is another portfolio for which a serious power tussle is on.

Railway Minister Lalu Prasad has told the prime minister that he wants his lieutenant and Company Affairs Minister Prem Gupta to be accommodated in the power ministry.

Prem Gupta is currently a minister of state with independent charge, but Lalu says he is happy securing even the junior ministership for his colleague as long as it is in the power ministry.

Another problem is deciding upon a date for the reshuffle.

December 26 was one option, but most leaders are leaving on holiday with their families. The first fortnight of 2006 has been ruled out because it is considered inauspicious.

The Congress plenary is scheduled for January 21 and 22 in Hyderabad and party changes will impinge on appointments to government.

This will be followed by the Republic Day and Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's visit. A stream of foreign visitors will also be visiting Delhi in January and February.

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