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Glass half full, half empty

PM's makeover keeps eye on poll-bound states, but Bengal and TN will have to wait for post-Budget overhaul. Vinod Sharma writes.

delhi Updated: Jan 20, 2011 00:48 IST
Vinod Sharma

One had expected Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to renovate his ministerial council with fresh talent and out-of-the-box thinking. To that extent, he comes across as having rearranged furniture without completely discarding rickety chairs and faded upholstery.

The makeover is partial, even half-hearted with ministers shifted from one portfolio to another. But sources in the know of Singh's thinking insist that his promise of a "more expansive exercise" after the Budget Session was for real.

"Those shown the yellow cards will be handed the red card if they continue sitting on their hands," said an official.

Many commentators dismissed Singh's opening act as timid. More charitably, changes in petroleum, civil aviation, roads and highways ministries bring out his impatience with "crony capitalism" and the corruption it spawns.

Yet, the reshuffle throws up more questions than answers.

Kerala's Vayalar Ravi is a good man. But is he good enough for civil aviation? How will CP Joshi manage road transport and highways on being shunted out of rural development where his "intemperate" work style messed up things?

Murli Deora's transfer from petroleum to corporate affairs has also raised eyebrows. In his new role, he'd be less of a patron and more of a facilitator.

Jaipal Reddy has got petroleum on the strength of his clean image. He hails from Telangana and is not known to align with corporate houses. That should help politically, besides putting an end to insinuations that the Centre played favourites in corporate battles over gas and oil in the hydrocarbon-rich Krishna Godavari basin.

The PM apparently has sought more time to complete the exercise in search of common ground with Congress president Sonia Gandhi. On completion, the changes would seek to blend governance and organisational requirements.

The objective is best illustrated by elevation to Cabinet rank of Salman Khursheed and Shriprakash Jaiswal besides Beni Prasad Verma's induction as MoS with Independent charge of Steel. All three are from poll-bound Uttar Pradesh. But Verma's demotion as MoS - after having served as Cabinet minister in the United Front regime - will upset his Kurmi support base.

Khursheed's change of portfolio, from corporate affairs to water resources, will have to be read in conjunction with the UPA's new water policy. Jaiswal's promotion in the coal ministry will help the PM shed the additional charge, as is the case with culture, now with Kumari Selja in place of tourism.

Vilasrao Deshmukh's slate isn't speck-less clean. But with rural development and panchayati raj, he'd be in competition with agriculture minister Sharad Pawar. Rural distress caused by agrarian crisis is a major issue in their home state of Maharashtra.

In regional terms, Kerala, the other poll-bound state, has got some boost with the induction of KC Venugopal as MoS and E Ahmed being restored his earlier charge in the MEA. But K V Thomas's Independent charge of food, consumer affairs and PDS could be a double-edged sword. The portfolio carved out of Pawar's ensemble will make the Congress directly accountable on the price front.

Tamil Nadu and West Bengal have to wait for the promised second round. The PM has left unfilled ministerial vacancies in the share of DMK and Trinamool.

So, the glass is half empty and half full.