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New Delhi: The new council of ministers is likely to bear Manmohan Singh’s stamp and the focus will be on performance, efficiency and accountability.

Tentatively, the number of ministers taking oath on Friday will be restricted to 60.

The Prime Minister spent much time today discussing government formation and is said to be of the view that the new cabinet will have no space for sluggishness or non-performance.

Manmohan is credited with the view that between 2004 and 2009 the UPA functioned well though it faced innumerable challenges from within and outside.

It worked more like a bureaucratic machine than a political conglomerate. There were too many lacklustre performances in the ministries of human resource development and home (till P. Chidambaram took over). Ministers differed with each other, sidelined juniors and few cared for accountability, essential in a parliamentary democracy.

Manmohan, in fact, today got a glimpse of the past during the last meeting of the cabinet with Lalu Prasad leaving on a bitter note.

The cabinet had met to thank the people of India as well as the Prime Minister for his excellent work. Mani Shankar Aiyar spoke on behalf of the 16 ministers who failed to make the 15th Lok Sabha. Ram Vilas Paswan bade goodbye to colleagues.

Lalu Prasad spoke last and took on the Congress for “insulting” him. He said that instead of thanking his RJD for its unflinching support, Congress leaders Digvijay Singh, Rajiv Shukla and Prithviraj Chavan had been criticising him in TV studios. Pranab Mukherjee tried to pacify him, but Manmohan was aloof.

In Congress circles, there is a view that the choice of finance minister will test Manmohan’s strength. All eyes are on Sonia Gandhi: whether she rewards Manmohan with his choice of minister.

Manmohan feels a professional rather than a politician would be better suited for the job. So, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, would fit the bill best.

The Prime Minister is said to be keen to bring in fresh faces in the HRD, social justice, mines, food processing and other ministries where incumbents have failed to live up to expectations.

He is said to be eager to promote ministers like Kapil Sibal, Ambika Soni, Prithviraj Chavan, Jairam Ramesh and Anand Sharma who have performed well.

He would also like to have Chidambaram continue as home minister and Pranab as foreign minister. But outgoing commerce minister Kamal Nath is said to be eyeing finance and external affairs and Sibal commerce or HRD.

Sources said Manmohan would insist on Rahul Gandhi joining the government. The decision has been left to Rahul, but Manmohan is apparently planning to personally request him to take up the assignment.

Manmohan is also keen to bring Mamata Banerjee into his cabinet because he feels that participation of all pre-poll allies is key to the smooth functioning of “UPA II”. But Mamata is said to be in a dilemma on whether to move to the Centre or concentrate on Bengal politics.

The Trinamul chief came in for praise from Pranab, who said at a Congress forum that he was deeply impressed by her determination to crush the Left in Bengal.

The Congress is planning to set stringent conditions for other UPA allies. It has decided that no alliance minister will be given additional portfolios.

The Congress managers have worked out that any party with seven MPs would be entitled to a cabinet and a minister of state berth. The formula has been worked out by dividing the magic figure of 272 MPs into 39 cabinet and 39 MoS berths respectively. The Union cabinet cannot have more than 81 members, including the Prime Minister.






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