New Delhi: The Prime Minister is in far away Cuba, but there is a growing buzz back home.
Manmohan Singh's hint at a possible Cabinet reshuffle after his return from his overseas visit has the political circles and the media speculating on Home Minister Shivraj Patil's impending exit from the ministry.
So, are Patil's days at the North Block numbered? And why?
Media reports suggest that the recent Malegaon episode, in which Congress President and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi had to face the embarrassment of the local residents’ open ire, has finally tilted the balance against Patil's continuance at the Home Ministry.
Chinese whispers in the political corridors hint the Congress high command is already looking for a replacement for Patil and Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s name tops the list. However, Mukherjee is also being tipped as a possible choice for the External Affairs minister’s post.
The Prime Minister has already named Mukherjee to head the India delegation to the UN General Assembly later this month. This further strengthens his case for heading the External Affairs Ministry. Other names doing the rounds for the post include Congress veteran Dr Karan Singh and Maharashtra Governor S M Krishna. Union Ministers Kapil Sibal and Kamal Nath are also being considered, say media reports.
Some sources, however, say Mukherjee may be designated the deputy prime minister in the forthcoming Cabinet reshuffle and the Ministry of Home Affairs may be placed under him. In that case, the Congress high command has to first make up its mind on who will man the South Block.
According to reports, Congress president Sonia Gandhi is under pressure from the UPA to shift Patil out of Home Ministry.
The failure of the security and intelligence agencies to make a breakthrough in the investigations into the Mumbai train blasts is cited as another minus score for Patil.
The Cabinet reshuffle is expected to take place some time in the last week of September immediately after the Congress Chief Ministers’ conclave in Nainital.
However, till the reshuffle takes place Patil can take solace in the fact that before the last Cabinet reshuffle in January, too, there were similar whispers in the political circles over Patil's future as the Union Home Minister. However, the PM had left his post untouched then. Will he be as lucky this time?