Cabinet reshuffle - a damp squib? (News Analysis)

July 12th, 2011 - 9:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, July 12 (IANS) The much anticipated cabinet reshuffle in the end stood out for what did not happen rather than the big-ticket changes that many thought Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would make to give his government a new image. In the process, the larger message — either political or on the economic front — was clearly lacking in the exercise.

The changes made were widely expected, and names of some new entrants were leaked to select media by the Congress party itself.

The big four — Pranab Mukherjee, P. Chidambaram, A.K. Antony and S.M. Krishna — retained their portfolios of finance, home, defence and external affairs, belying talk of “changes at the top”.

Mukherjee was not made deputy prime minister, although expected in some circles, nor were other three moved out despite whispers in the corridors.

Krishna, despite adverse comments on his handling of the foreign ministry and unflattering write-ups about the undue influence wielded by his political advisor, retained the portfolio whose strategic vision is known to be outlined by the prime minister himself.

The foreign minister, on whose continuance many had put a question mark, was told some days ago that he should have no fears and was asked to go ahead with preparations for the coming visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

There had been reports that Anand Sharma wanted the job and he had privately talked of his desire to return to the ministry where he had served as a minister of state before being elevated to cabinet rank with the commerce and industry portfolio.

He now has additional charge of the textiles that was being held by Dayanidhi Maran, who was made to resign from the cabinet following charges about his involvement in the telecom license scandal.

The Trinamool got its ministers in the slots it wanted — railways for Dinesh Trivedi in the cabinet and health and family welfare for Sudip Bandopadhyaya as minister of state.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who held railways earlier not particularly with distinction for a little over two years, is now laying great stress on the health sector in her state and needs central funds to push hospital projects in a state where the area had been badly neglected by the previous Left Front government.

The DMK could not decide on its nominees in time to replace A. Raja and Dayanadhi Maran, both of whom had to resign in ignominy. Raja ended up in jail and Maran is going to be investigated.

Jairam Ramesh, an environmental evangelist who put green concerns on the front burner of the nation and became a passionate and articulate advocate for the emerging economies in international forums, got promoted for his work to cabinet rank.

He will now hold the important portfolio of rural development that deals with the concerns of nearly 70 percent of India’s population. This segment of population has been the target of the government’s flagship social and economic uplift schemes but had been suffering from inept handling and administrative neglect and whose votes, at the end of the day, can determine the fortunes of any government in India.

New faces in the government were restricted to a few: V. Kishore Chandra Deo, a competent parliamentarian who got the portfolio of tribal affairs, and panchayati raj, which again are crucial areas for any government from the developmental viewpoint, but have not got the ministerial attention the area needed.

There was some talk of Mani Shankar Aiyar returning to the panchayati raj ministry, especially since he was made Rajya Sabha MP after losing his Lok Sabha seat in the last election. But his mouth-shooting habits were obviously not to the liking of Manmohan Singh and party president Sonia Gandhi.

Articulate party spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan found place in the council of ministers with independent rank, taking over the environment and forest portfolio from Jairam Ramesh.

Since Murli Deora resigned, his son Milind Deora, who has made his own name as a young MP with varied interests, including being a performing jazz guitarist, has been inducted as minister of state for communication and IT to complement the work of his friend Sachin Pilot, who too is a minister of state in the ministry that will continue to be overseen by Kapil Sibal.

Sibal, a man who evidently enjoys the trust of Manmohan and Sonia, will continue to hold dual charge of human resource development and communication, which includes the economically weighty and politically significant department of telecom.

Also Vayalar Ravi continues to hold dual charge of aviation and overseas Indian affairs. There has to be another tinkering with the cabinet in the near future to lighten the burden of those like Sibal and Ravi who continue to hold two heavyweight portfolios each.

Salman Khursheed, who was part of the government troubleshooting team that interacted with civil society representatives, has obviously become one of the government’s blue-eyed boys along with Sibal and Ramesh.

Khursheed takes over the law portfolio at a time when the country’s highest court has been accused of judicial activism and arrogating to itself executive roles that it was not meant to play.

But talk of inducting technocrats like C. Rangarajan into the team to infuse fresh life into the stalling reforms were belied. The old wine could not be easily replaced.

The prime minister and the Congress president evidently did not have enough confidence in the new-age wine in the party to replace the old and infuse new hope in a people who had become cynical and despairing about the country in the face of corruption scandals and growth slowdown.

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