New Delhi, Oct. 26: Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi met tonight to finalise Sunday's scheduled cabinet shuffle, with the hunt for a new foreign minister gathering pace following S.M. Krishna's resignation earlier in the day.
Almost every senior government or party leader conceded that no one except the Prime Minister and the Congress president knew about the decisions.
They, however, said that Kapil Sibal and Anand Sharma were lobbying hard for the job of external affairs minister while Punjab governor Shivraj Patil, too, was in the running.
Sibal does not want to retain only the telecom ministry if human resource development is taken away from him, and the Prime Minister is supportive of the idea of promoting him to external affairs, the sources said.
Sharma, whose performance as commerce minister has been widely appreciated, enjoys Sonia's confidence. Most party leaders think that a clear picture can emerge only by tomorrow night.
The ministries of railways, power, petroleum, human resource development, information and broadcasting, health, surface transport and tourism too could see new incumbents, making the rejig bigger than expected.
Many senior leaders, including information minister Ambika Soni, may be drafted into party work. Salman Khurshid, grappling with controversy, is expected to retain the law ministry.
The railway berth, too, has witnessed intense lobbying, with veterans such as Ghulam Nabi Azad and Kamal Nath setting their sights on the coveted portfolio. But sources said Rahul Gandhi wants C.P. Joshi to continue, an idea the Prime Minister is said not to be too enthusiastic about.
All those with charge of more than one ministry are expected to retain only one.
A rumour had surfaced in the afternoon about some leaders receiving calls from the cabinet secretariat for the swearing-in ceremony but official sources promptly denied it.
Those said to have received the calls included Abu Hashem Khan Chowdhury, the Congress MP from Malda who is certain to become a minister, as well as Andhra Pradesh MPs Surya Prakash Reddy and Balram Naik, Kerala's Suresh Kodikunnil and Shashi Tharoor, and Maharashtra's Gurudas Kamat.
Many either kept mum or emphatically denied having received calls. But Abu Hashem, the brother of the late Ghani Khan Chowdhury, said over the phone from Delhi: "I got the call from the Union cabinet secretary around 11am today. He told me to be prepared as there is a ministry shuffle ahead. I was told to be at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Sunday morning at 11.30am. He said a letter was being despatched to me."
When Sonia met several ministers in the evening, that too set off a buzz about their roles being changed.
The names of Bengal's Pradip Bhattacharya as well as Tariq Anwar, T.R. Baalu, Meenakshi Natrajan, Manish Tewari, Vilas Muttemwar and Arun Yadav are doing the rounds as possible inductees.
Rahul is said to be pressing for the promotion of young ministers but it is unlikely that they would be made full-fledged cabinet ministers. Some of them may even be shifted to the party.
The All India Congress Committee shuffle will happen soon, probably after the November rally in Delhi. Rahul is expected to take charge of the organisation and would want his own team.