A comprehensive shake-up of the government that had the imprimatur of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi was effected today, with the induction of 22 new ministers and changes in the portfolios of several others. The Rahul Gandhi touch was missing in the rejig: his nominees were promoted but no aditional young MPs from his stable were inducted into the government.
The reshuffle seemed to have a twin objective: to give the government the image of being effective and reform-oriented; and to beef up the presence of those states in the union government where the Congress is politically powerful. So Minister for Petroleum, Jaipal Reddy was not just removed from this important ministry but was also demoted (he now has the portfolio of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences).
Reddy believes he has fallen a victim to corporate lobbying and has told friends he may quit the government altogether. On the other hand it is the government’s worst kept secret that he was a reluctant participant in the government’s decision to impose caps on domestic LPG cylinders and had been seeking to roll these back at least partially. He has been replaced by Minister for Corporate Affairs, Veerappa Moily, seen as a more practical politician.
Similarly, the crucial Railways portfolio has gone to former Water Resources Minister Pawan Bansal, who is expected to take large scale and unpopular steps to turn railway finances around. Highways Minister CP Joshi had been given temporary charge of railways after the Trinamool Congress pulled its nominee out of the government and he returns to where he was.
Politically, Andhra Pradesh which contributes 33 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats to the kitty of Congress Legislature Party (CLP) in the Lok Sabha, Kerala and Rajasthan have got more nominees in the council of ministers than before.
Actor-turned politician Chiranjeevi, whose decision to merge his party, the Praja Rajyam, helped stabilise the Andhra Pradesh government led by the Congress, has been waiting for a berth in the council of ministers since 2011. With his 18 MLAs, Chiranjeevi saved the day for the Congress in AP which would have lost the government in the wake of the rebellion mounted by the pro-JaganMohan Reddy elements had Chiranjeevi not come to its rescue.
Chandresh Kumari (Cabinet rank, Culture) and Lalchand Kataria (Minister of state for Defence) have been elected from Rajasthan and Shashi Tharoor and Kodikunnil Suresh have been appointed minister of state in the ministries of Human Resource Development and Labour respectively.
Harish Rawat, who is credited with the victory of the Congress in Uttarakhand and was not made Chief Minister has been promoted to cabinet rank and given the water resources ministry. Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Kerala all have Congress governments. Assam finds representation in Ranee Narah who is now minister of state for tribal affairs. Assam also has a Congress government.
Salman Khurshid has been appointed Minister for External Affairs. Both Shashi Tharoor and Khurshid were considered to have been involved in controversies relating to the use of their personal wealth amid unproved charges that they misused their office to add to their personal finances. Clearly the government has drawn a line at the definition of corruption as it understands it and as understood by civil rights activists. Khurshid has now entered the privileged membership of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) and Tharoor is back in government after leaving it under a cloud in 2009.
None of the young MPs from the so-called Rahul Gandhi brigade – Meenakshi Natarajan, Mausam Noor, Jyoti Mirdha, etc – have found a place in the council of ministers although Gandhi’s proteges have been promoted.
Jitendra Singh has been shifted from Minister of State for Home to get independent charge of Youth Affairs and sport. Sachin Pilot has been moved from telecom to get independent charge of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. With no cabinet minister, Pilot will function independently in this crucial ministry, especially when it is faced with enquiries into the financial affairs of not just Robert Vadra but also Nitin Gadkari.
Politically the cabinet rejig sends a strong message to Trinamul Congress and Mamata Banerjee: that the Congress can do perfectly well without it. A known Mamata Banerjee baiter, Deepa Dasmunshi has been appointed minister of state for urban development. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has been made Minister of state for railways.
And AH Ghani Khan Chaudhary has been appointed Minister of state for Health. Interestingly, none of the state where the Congress is in alliance as a junior partner – like Tamil Nadu for instance – have been tapped for ministers, for fear of turning the alliance rancid. From Uttar Pradesh, where hopes of the Congress are still high, no new minister has been named, presumably to keep the Samajwadi party in equilibrium.