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Singh may fill up Cabinet vacancies soon

Our Political Bureau  |  New Delhi 

With one more vacancy in the council of ministers, top managers in the government have begun gearing up for the much-postponed Cabinet reshuffle .
The monsoon session of Parliament will conclude on August 26 and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be in Afghanistan on August 28 and 29, so a reshuffle can take place any time after that.
Owing to party dissonance over whom to retain and whom to drop and fearful of upsetting political equations, Singh has postponed a reshuffle twice on advice from the government managers.
Now with the exit of Jagdish Tytler from the council of ministers, the number of vacant ministries has risen to three: late Sunil Dutt's youth affairs and sports ministry; the coal, mines and minerals ministry that was occupied by Shibu Soren; and now Tytler.
In addition, Mani Shankar Aiyar has two portfolios"" petroleum and panchayatiraj, one of which has to be reallocated.
But it is at the level of ministers of state that there are maximum vacancies. The problem is that many ministers of state have had their portfolios upgraded to ministers of state with independent charges.
This was done in the interest of coalition politics, but is causing operational problems because these ministries now cannot be bifurcated or restructured.
Science and technology was never a ministry with independent charge, as it is now. At the other end of the spectrum is the civil aviation ministry, which used to have a Cabinet rank minister. This has now been given to a minister of state with independent charge, precluding the appointment of a minister of state.
In the circumstances, the Prime Minister appears to have little choice or manoeuvrability. Soren has been asking for his ministry to be restored to him""and the Prime Minister is likely to do this at the earliest opportunity.
The overseas Indian affairs ministry will probably be retained by the Prime Minister himself. This leaves just the sports portfolio to be allocated to someone from the Congress.
But the government continues to be loath to touch ministries that are crying out for a new face - like power, for example. Some leaders in the party have disingenuously suggested that the finance portfolio be given to the Prime Minister with three ministers of state to assist him- a suggestion that has been laughed out of court.

First Published: Fri, August 12 2005. 00:00 IST