Eye on polls, PM mixes youth and experience in reshuffle

April 7th, 2008 - 12:44 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, April 6 (IANS) With an eye on crucial assembly elections, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Sunday gave a push to refurbish the image of the Congress party and his government inducting fresh faces and veterans but not going the whole hog for an overall image overhaul. Seven ministers of state were inducted into the council of ministers. The reshuffle, coming ahead of the 2009 general elections and crucial assembly polls this year, stood out because of the induction of two MPs, Jyotiraditya Scindia, 37, and Jitin Prasada, 34, from the brood of Young Turks in the Congress.

Former chief election commissioner M.S. Gill was the only one given independent charge of sports and youth affairs.

Other new faces in the council of ministers, which stands at 80 now, are Congress party’s former Puducherry chief V.N. Narayanswamy, industrialist-turned-politician Sanjay Bagrodia, former police official Rameshwar Oraon (all Congress) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MP Raghunath Jha.

Scindia will be the junior IT and communications minister while Jitin Prasada has been made minister of state for steel.

Vayalar Ravi, Congress MP from Kerala and minister for overseas Indian affairs, gets additional charge of parliamentary affairs. Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, who still retains the information and broadcasting ministry, was earlier put in charge of West Bengal.

The reshuffle is also aimed at toning up the government’s performance in crucial sectors of governance. Gill, with his experience as former chief election commissioner, is expected to give important inputs in this regard.

Jairam Ramesh, minister of state for commerce, has been given additional charge of power.

Paving the way for the new ministers as well as a revamp in the Congress party structure, six ministers of state resigned from the council of ministers.

They are Suresh Suresh Pachouri, minister of state for personnel, Dasari Narayan Rao (coal), M.V. Rajasekharan (planning), T. Subbirami Reddy (mines), Akhilesh Das (steel) and Manikrao Gavit (home).

None of the leaders of the main opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) were present at the oath-taking ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace. Neither were there any representatives from the Samajwadi Party and the Telugu Desam Party. Sitaram Yechury from the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), however, was present.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is driving hard at improving his party’s pre-poll performance record and the reshuffle was expected to reflect this.

“But barring the two young MPs, we do not get a sense that the government wants to impact at macro-level,” said G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, a political analyst.

“The only thing which stands out is the induction of the two young MPs. It should have been done before. But better late than never,” he said.

Congress spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan described the reshuffle as a blend of “youth and experience”. “The two young inductees will deliver in a spectacular manner,” she said, adding that a “great deal can be achieved in a short time.”

DMK MP and Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi was expected to be inducted in the cabinet but was a surprising exclusion. Insiders point out that the party’s internal family squabbles came in the way of her induction, even though Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi were rooting for her.

The drive to mobilize youths began with the appointment of Rahul Gandhi, son of party chief Sonia Gandhi, as a Congress general secretary in September 2007. Party insiders pointed out that the induction of Scindia and Prasada takes this process ahead.

“We needed some young and experienced faces to help the people and that is why this expansion,” Manmohan Singh told reporters.

When asked about the non-inclusion of Rahul Gandhi, he said, “Rahul is an important leader for us and has desired to work for the party.”

Crucial assembly elections are scheduled later this year in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir.

Scindia, who represents the Guna constituency in Madhya Pradesh, is expected to give a boost to the Congress’ poll campaign in the central state. Bagrodia, from Rajasthan that is going to polls later this year, is expected to boost the party’s chances there.

The reshuffle also fills gaps created by the Congress’ earlier moves to shore up its organizational work.

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