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Crucial UPA meet on Cabinet berths ends

The crucial UPA meet to decide Cabinet berths has concluded at 10 Janpath, the residence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. All the key pre-poll partners of the Congress attended the meeting.

National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, DMK chief M Karunanidhi, NCP president Sharad Pawar and leader Praful Patel were present, along with senior Congress leaders, including Pranab Mukherjee, P Chidambaram and A K Antony besides Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

Sonia Gandhi was re-elected UPA chairperson. Her name was proposed by Karunanidhi and seconded by Mamata, the Trinamool Congress informed mediapersons.

All eyes are now on the likely candidates who would head some of the most important ministries in the next Congress-led UPA government. The Ministry of Human Resource Development, headed by controversial Congress leader Arjun Singh could throw up a surprise. According to sources, a serious contender for the ministry is Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi. Kapil Sibal’s name is also doing the rounds, according to TV channel Times Now.

After the meeting, Manmohan Singh is expected to call on President Pratibha Patil to stake claim to form government.

Congress sources mention May 22 as a probable date for swearing-in of the new government. The previous day, May 21, being the death anniversary of Rajiv Gandhi, the party leadership is keen to delay the launch of the new government by a day.

While numbers are no longer a big hurdle for the Congress-led alliance and the process appears to be a formality, working out the terms of power-sharing may create complications. Congress leadership got a reminder on Tuesday when the DMK leadership came up with big `wish list’ for portfolios.

There is also the fear that the muscle-flexing may encourage similar demands from Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee. The Congress had initially estimated that the maverick partner may not insist on big portfolios because she would not like her colleagues to grow in stature. They are not so sure any more. The fear is that the arm twisting may incite the Trinamool leader to up her ante as she would not like to be seen as playing in a league below that of the DMK.

Congress may have a task on its hand if the Sharad Pawar demands that the representation of his contingent from the NCP should not be scaled down to be brought in line with the new numbers. Besides expectations of a suitable portfolio for Pawar, Congress will also have to manage demands for his associates like Praful Patel.

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