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Reshuffling the same old pack

Manmohan Singh has emerged as someone who has little say in who should be part of his team. The dynamics within the organisation has ensured that no one was dropped, writes Pankaj Vohra.

columns Updated: Jul 04, 2011 13:49 IST
Pankaj Vohra

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced shortly after the Cabinet reshuffle that he would have another one after the budget. The remark itself perhaps indicated that the PM whose prerogative it is to have the council of ministers of his choice was dissatisfied with this outcome. In other words, he could not exercise his prerogative and had to give in to the compulsions of coalition politics as well as party pressures. The net result was that the revamp has failed to send out any message like the AICC plenary session last month. The party and the government have squandered away a golden opportunity for course correction and have, in fact, weakened the institution of the PM.

Singh has emerged as someone who has little say in who should be part of his team. The dynamics within the organisation has ensured that no one was dropped. Instead there have been some additions. The reshuffle does not reflect whether the changes made were to reward a few or punish others. Yes, it is true that the ministers connected with the organisation of the Commonwealth Games — S Jaipal Reddy, Manohar Singh Gill and Kumari Selja — were relieved of urban development, sports and tourism respectively. But they have landed equally good portfolios. No one can explain whether Kamal Nath’s shifting from the roads and highways ministry to urban development is a promotion or demotion. Why has Virbhadra Singh, the tallest leader from Himachal Pradesh been given a nondescript portfolio and why was there hesitation in showing a lightweight like Gill the door?

Three ministers were inducted or elevated from Uttar Pradesh but this will have no bearing on the state politics a year ahead of the polls which the Congress badly wants to win. Salman Khursheed should have made it to the Cabinet in the first place but this time has got a promotion in a ministry which will not help his party consolidate its position. Sriprakash Jaiswal has got Cabinet rank only because of his proximity to 10 Janpath and Beni Prasad Verma who got the Kurmi votes for the Congress in the 2009 polls has been humiliated by being given only a minister of state rank when he was a Cabinet minister 14 years ago.

It has been a subject of speculation in political circles that Singh wanted to bring in Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, as the new finance minister. Supporters of Pranab Mukherjee were also keen that he should get the rank of deputy prime minister even if he did not get any portfolio. But that the two moves were put in abeyance shows that the reshuffle has left many people dissatisfied. The fallout of this unhappiness may be reflected in the functioning of the government whose leadership was unable to evaluate some ministers in internal exams. How these failed ministers will perform in the boards after the budget session is anybody’s guess.

It has become increasingly clear that the government and the party are in self-destructive mode. It is also difficult to believe that another reshuffle may actually take place in the life of this government given its track record of indecision. The belief that Cabinet formation is the prerogative of the PM is a myth. Statecraft mandarin Machiavelli has in his book — The Prince — and his discourses stated that power does not lie with the Chair but elsewhere. In the Indian context, it could be broadly interpreted as the Prime Minister’s Office and the Congress president’s closest advisers. The reshuffle has their stamp. Unless the PM gets a free hand, the government and the party will keep sending out the wrong signals. The latest signals do not portend well for a happy future.