Pretty Much as You Were in Cabinet Reshuffle
Jan. 25 – Some changes in portfolios, but nobody was dropped in India’s latest Cabinet reshuffle. After much speculation about whether there would be drastic changes, what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems to have implemented is a game of musical chairs.
While some had speculated that the prime minister would use the shake-up to return assurance in a government rocked by a series of scandals, the changes were seen as quite minor. The major impact has been on economic and infrastructure ministries like petroleum, roads, and rural and urban development, but ministers have swapped their places – so it’s the same old faces donning new attire. No minister was dropped according to the prime minister and more expansion would follow after the budget session.
The key ministries, however, remained unchanged. The reshuffle is seen as an effort to refresh the coalition. It could also be a measure to clean up the image of the government criticized for corruption scandals. A wave of rage over corruption and the escalating price of food threatens to pull the Congress Party’s ties with its progressively more worried party associates in the run-up to state elections this year and a general election due by 2014.
The Congress now took over the important portfolios like food, telecom and civil aviation. It is also an exercise to signal and place many ministers in the “danger zone” while rewarding those seen as efficient by the prime minister. The vital point here is that there is only a bit of shuffling around, but no major expectations have been met — no young blood introduced, no corruption-tainted names dropped.
The only interesting developments are S. Jaipal Reddy changing to the petroleum ministry and Murli Deora changing to corporate affairs. It would appear that market-friendly Deora has given way to socialist-minded Reddy. Here is a spot of irony. Deora replaced the unapologetic socialist Mani Shankar Aiyar in UPA-I in the petroleum ministry. But all this remains in the area of engaging assumption. Aiyar, Deora and Reddy may have their political leanings but it is for the UPA and for Singh to decide the policy to be pursued.
The rearrangement of portfolios came at a time when Mrs. Gandhi and Manmohan Singh seem to be losing power and influence, not because they are differing with each other, but because they require the political sure-footedness necessary to run a united coalition and undertake common corruption and deprived governance. The cabinet reshuffle work out is actually meant to pick up the presentation of the government and it has to be seen whether that happens or not, and as such was restricted to the Congress party. The partners have been kept out, and the promise that there will be a major reshuffle after the budget meeting of Parliament is indicative that it is then that the UPA allies will be part of the change game.
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