Girsh Menon

Thiruvananthapuram: The United Democratic Front (UDF) liaison committee is meeting here on Monday to sort out the dispute arising out of the Indian Union Muslim League’s demand for an additional berth in the Chandy Cabinet.

The UDF leaders are working out a formula to settle the issue. As things stand now, it appears that the IUML will have to face the question whether it will be in its larger interest to play the age-old brinksmanship it had been used to in the 1990s. Leaders of various UDF constituents admit that the political reality of a slender margin hardly offers much option to any of them to push demands beyond a point.

The Kerala Congress (M) had demanded an additional berth at the time of the discussions for selecting Ministers and allocating portfolios. The IUML, as an afterthought, sprang a surprise by staking its claim to an additional berth. The party’s action of fielding its supremo Panakkad Syed Hyderali Shihab Thangal to wrest a berth was perceived as uncharacteristic of its style of functioning. Moreover, it did not go down well with the Congress leadership which was left fuming over the manner in which the IUML made its announcement.

The Kerala Congress (M), in the meantime, took special care not to affect its cosy ties with the IUML and changed its strategy by demanding the Speaker’s post if the IUML were to be given the ministerial berth.

It appears to be a triangular tussle for the posts of Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Parliamentary Affairs Minister. The Assembly is due to elect the Speaker on the second day of its first session.

The Congress leadership has made it clear that it was unwilling to concede the IUML’s demand. The Congress stand is that the IUML, which had gone through a very bad phase for the major part of the last decade, has higher stakes in ensuring the government’s stability.

As per constitutional provisions, the size of the Cabinet should be limited to 15 per cent of the strength of the Assembly. There is provision for inducting one more Minister to bring up the total number to 21. Keeping in mind the negative publicity that a huge Cabinet might attract, the claimants will have to settle for a formula according to which there will be a Government Chief Whip with Cabinet rank, instead of a Parliamentary Affairs Minister, with the IUML getting this post.

The Congress will take the Speaker’s post, which has become a crucial office in the backdrop of a slender margin, leaving the Deputy Speaker’s post to the Kerala Congress (M). This formula will come up for discussion at the UDF meeting ahead of the Assembly session beginning on June 1, sources said.