Five ministers quit ahead of Sunday's Cabinet reshuffle

Last Updated: Sat, Oct 27, 2012 12:22 hrs

New Delhi: The stage is set for Sunday's much-anticipated cabinet reshuffle with five ministers stepping down, including S M Krishna and Ambika Soni, to make way for newer, and possibly, younger faces.

The swearing in of the new ministers will take place in the morning. A Rashtrapati Bhavan official said, "It will be held at 11.30 am."

Ahead of the reshuffle, Krishna quit as external affairs minister, while Ambika Soni stepped down as information and broadcasting minister. Subodh Kant Sahai resigned as tourism minister and Mukul Wasnik as Social Justice and Empowerment minister.

According to government sources, minister of state for social justice and empowerment Mahadev Khandela also resigned Saturday.

Ambika Soni, Sahai and Wasnik met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday morning.

Soni confirmed her resignation to IANS. Sahai's resignation was confirmed by a close aide. The leaders are said to have stepped down inorder to stengthen the party before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Sahai's close aide told IANS that the former minister will now focus on party work. "He will be taking up a more active role in the party organisation," the aide said.

Wasnik, meanwhile, told reporters on Saturday that he had submitted his resignation on Friday evening.

"I have already submitted my resignation to the Prime Minister on Friday evening," Wasnik said, after meeting Manmohan Singh on Saturday.

Wasnik told reporters that he is keen to work to strengthen the party organization ahead of the 2014 general elections. "I have been working for the organization for the last several years and I would like to continue to do so," he told reporters.

Sahai too said he is keen to work for the party. "It's a great honour to work for the party."

The Cabinet reshuffle was necessitated with the Trinamool Congress quitting the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the government last month. The Trinamool had six ministers in the UPA government.

Among the names doing the rounds as probable new faces to be inducted Sunday are of actor-turned politician Chiranjeevi from Andhra Pradesh and Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury, the brother of late Congress leader Abu Barkat Ghani Khan Choudhury, from Malda district. Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) had joined the Congress last year and there has been talk of including the prominent Andhra Pradesh player in the ministry.

A West Bengal Congress MP likely to be inducted is Deepa Dasmunshi, wife of former Congress minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi, who has been in a coma for a prolonged period.

There are several names being speculated on as possible successors of Krishna, including ccmmerce minister Anand Sharma, senior party MP Karan Singh and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor, a former junior foreign minister.

Krishna is likely to work in Karnataka to strengthen the party ahead of state elections due next year. Speaking to reporters, the 80-year-old former chief minister of Karnataka said he had stepped down to make way for "younger blood" and had brought in transparency in the working of the external affairs ministry during his tenure.

The latest reshuffle could be the last before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Some ministers holding more than one portfolio, like Kapil Sibal, C.P. Joshi, Vayalar Ravi and Salman Khurshid, may be relieved of one ministry, while some ministers of state, like Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia, are likely to be elevated.

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who the Prime Minister has invited to join the government, may accept the offer. But speculation is that he may take on a more prominent role in the Congress party.

Among the ministers who may be dropped are coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal and steel minister Beni Prasad Verma. Jaiswal and Sahai had came under attack from the opposition on the coal blocks allocation issue.

The death of Vilasrao Deshmukh, who was minister for science and technology, had led to a vacancy for a cabinet post for a leader from Maharashtra.

The reshuffle on Sunday would give sufficient time to the new ministers to be prepared for the winter session of parliament in November-December.

Though there were cabinet berths vacated by DMK leaders A. Raja and Dayanidhi Maran, who had to leave after their names cropped up in the 2G case, the UPA constituent may not claim the vacated slots in the new cabinet, sources indicated.

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