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Manmohan Singh to be sworn in Prime Minister tomorrow

New Delhi Bureau

BSP, SP and RJD send letters of support directly to the President

— Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

Comfortably placed: Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing a press conference after submitting letters of support from 274 members of the 15th Lok Sabha to the President at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Wednesday.

NEW DELHI: President Pratibha Devisingh Patil on Wednesday appointed Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister and invited him to name his Council of Ministers. The oath-taking ceremony has been scheduled for May 22, according to a Rashtrapati Bhavan communiqué.

The invitation to form the government came after Dr. Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi staked claim with letters of support from 274 members of the 15th Lok Sabha. In addition, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal sent letters of support for a Manmohan Singh-led government directly to the President, taking the support base to 322.

In her invitation to Dr. Singh, the President said: “Having regard to the fact that you head the single largest party and the largest pre-election alliance and taking note of the letters of support enabling you to command majority support of the newly constituted 15th Lok Sabha, I have the pleasure to appoint you Prime Minister….”

Though Dr. Singh refused to give any indication of the contours of his new Council of Ministers while talking to the media after staking claim, the broad composition of the next Cabinet was becoming somewhat clear by Wednesday evening. While Pranab Mukherjee retains Finance, P. Chidambaram stays at Home, and A.K. Antony looks after Defence.

Dr. Singh is still to settle on a potential Foreign Minister. The former Karnataka Chief Minister, S.M. Krishna, is reported to be high on everyone’s list with Salman Khursheed being accommodated in a Minister of State slot. The latest UPA entrant — Trinamool Congress — will get Railways with Mamata Banerjee returning to preside over the Mnistry. And, Nationalist Congress Party leaders Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel will keep their earlier Mnistries — Agriculture, Food & Public Distribution and Civil Aviation respectively.

The Commerce Ministry is to be restructured but could well still be headed by Kamal Nath. Kapil Sibal is tipped to take charge of Human Resource Development while H.R. Bharadwaj will head the Law Ministry.

C.P. Joshi is a front-runner for heading the Rural Development Ministry and Anand Sharma is likely to be rewarded for his energetic stewardship of the Information & Broadcasting Ministry over the last five months.

Earlier in the day, the 10 pre-poll allies of the Congress met at Ms. Gandhi’s residence and unanimously elected her chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Her name for the post was proposed by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief M. Karunanidhi and seconded by Ms. Banerjee. Mr. Karunanidhi was particularly appreciative of Ms. Gandhi’s leadership; lauding her for steering the UPA to a second term.

With Ms. Banerjee and Mr. Pawar stressing the need for evolving a common minimum programme, the pre-poll allies decided to set up a small committee to study all manifestos. Whether there will be a new National Common Minimum Programme is still not clear as the Congress is of the view that the old one remains an article of faith for the UPA since the same government has been re-elected. “Some additions could be made to factor in promises made in the 2009 election manifestoes,” said Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi.

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