Giving a larger role to youth in the decision-making process, young Ministers of State including Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Jitendra Singh have been given Independent charge of Corporate Affairs, Power, and Youth Affairs & Sports respectively, while Ludhiana MP Manish Tewari becomes MoS with Independent charge of Information & Broadcasting Ministry.
However, the strongest message of this Cabinet reshuffle was that the government would not let anti-corruption activists dictate its agenda. And the biggest signal of this was the elevation of Khurshid — who has borne the brunt of protests by opposition parties and Arvind Kejriwal — to the coveted MEA. Incidentally, Khurshid had minced no words in opposing the India-US nuclear deal, and it would be interesting to see how he reconciles his personal beliefs with the PM’s larger foreign policy agenda.
Similarly, former Rajya Sabha deputy chairman K Rahman Khan was made a Cabinet minister despite allegations of misappropriation of funds by a cooperative bank in Karnataka he once headed. Shashi Tharoor, who had to resign as MoS, External Affairs, in April 2010 following a slew of controversies including one related to the IPL Kochi franchise, made a comeback.
The Congress high command was said to have had reservations over Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s induction as a minister over the criminal charges he faced, but eventually the Baharampur MP had to be accommodated.
Incidentally, the new Cabinet doesn’t have a single minister from all of eastern India, Bihar eastwards. While Pranab Mukherjee moved on to Rashtrapati Bhavan, Subodh Kant Sahai from Jharkhand resigned on Saturday ahead of the reshuffle.
Some ministerships followed from promises to individual leaders.
Harish Rawat had to be upgraded to Cabinet rank as compensation for denial of chief ministership of Uttarakhand to him, while K Chiranjeevi was rewarded with MoS (Independent), Tourism, portfolio for merging his Praja Rajyam Party with the Congress.
With Gujarat going to polls, Dinsha J Patel was upgraded to Cabinet rank in the same Mines Ministry while MoS Bharatsinh Solanki got Independent charge of Drinking Water and Sanitation.
Andhra Pradesh, where the Congress has been ceding space to the YSR Congress as well as losing ground over Telangana, cornered the lion’s share of Sunday’s reshuffle. It got five new faces as MoSes, taking the total representation of the state in the Union Council of Ministers to 10 (excluding Jairam Ramesh who is a Rajya Sabha MP from Andhra but belongs to Karnataka).
In a strong signal to Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee who snapped ties with the UPA, the PM inducted three MoSes from West Bengal, including Deepa Dasmunsi and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who are known baiters of the chief minister.
Talking to reporters after the swearing-in ceremony at Ashoka Hall in Rashtrapati Bhavan, the PM said his revamped team was “a combination of youth and experience” and “relevance to portfolios” was one of the criteria adopted. Stating that the “road ahead is full of challenges”, Manmohan Singh ruled out early elections.
Asked about the resignation of seven ministers ahead of the reshuffle, the PM said, “The party also needs men and women of experience to strengthen it. They will be equally productive in the party.” He said that he had wanted Rahul Gandhi in the government but he has “other preoccupations and he (Rahul) wants to strengthen the party”.
Sunday’s exercise, however, left a few things unaddressed. While Kapil Sibal, a pro-active minister and go-getter, was divested of Human Resource Development portfolio, many others like Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma, Chemicals & Fertilisers Minister M K Alagiri, and Labour & Employment Minister Mallikarjun Kharge were left untouched despite their lacklustre performance.
Similarly, Jayanthi Natarajan’s continuation in the Environment & Forests Ministry could spell trouble for the UPA government’s renewed thrust on governance as she looks determined to stall the creation of the National Investment Board to fast-track infrastructure projects worth over Rs 2.5 lakh crore. Many Congress chief ministers have been appealing to her not to obstruct development in their states.
While there were not many losers in this reshuffle — except some prominent ministers who resigned ahead of the changes and are now set to be given organisational responsibility in the Congress — the PM’s attempt to follow one-person-one-portfolio principle did result in Sibal being divested of the HRD Ministry in which he had taken a lot of initiatives. He retains Communications & IT, which he held as additional charge.
Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh was stripped of Drinking Water & Sanitation portfolio, which was given to Solanki. Jaipal Reddy was another loser, divested of Petroleum & Natural Gas and given the relatively less significant portfolio of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences. Veerappa Moily got Petroleum & Natural Gas.
Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath was one of the gainers, getting the additional portfolio of Parliamentary Affairs, and so were Pawan Bansal and newly appointed Cabinet Minister Ashwani Kumar, who were given Railways and Law & Justice portfolios respectively.
When Salman Khursid was facing the charges that N.G.O. run by his wife bungled the lacs of rupees as grant provided to the institution by the Government to distribute tricycle and ear phones among the handicapped belonging to oppressed and downtrodden class then can it be justified that he may be elevated to the post of external affairs minister. This reshuffle in the central ministry have proved that Dr. Manmohan Singh is like mask of Sonia Gandhi. He has no power to apply his discretion .
The new cabinet minister for External Affairs is going to work with a pen on all matters concerning foreign policy, in the normal course. If necessary, where the pen does not yield results, he is sure to work with a gun as well.