The second reshuffle of UPA-II is significant as much for what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has done as for what he hasn’t.
One’s happy with the changes made in the ministries of law and justice, rural development and environment. But one’s surprised the PM has let listless incumbents keep external affairs and key infrastructure ministries such as power, civil aviation and road transport and highways.
"The PM could have injected fresh blood to rev up these departments,” lamented a Congress MP. “What message is being sent by letting things stagnate under old fogies,” he asked.
Status quo in civil aviation (Vayalar Ravi) and road transport and highways (CP Joshi) is attributed to Singh’s tactical preference for transparency over efficiency in this season of scams. “Nobody can accuse Ravi or Joshi of being corrupt,” argued a Congress official. He said Sushilkumar Shinde continues in power ministry as there wasn’t available a slot that would match his seniority.
Moreover, Ravi keeps civil aviation only temporarily, till the DMK makes up its mind to fill its two vacancies in the cabinet. The Tamil Nadu party will get the portfolio in exchange for telecom that remains with Kapil Sibal. The textile portfolio relinquished by Dayanidhi Maran is concurrently held by commerce minister Anand Sharma.
But couldn’t power and road transport and highways been given to younger aspirants such as Pallam Raju, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot or Jitin Prasad who are capable of transparency and efficiency? A Congress insider’s rather facile explanation for that was---their claims were ignored to avoid resentment among relatively senior MPs awaiting promotion or promoted with lesser portfolios. Example: Gurudas Kamat, V Narayanaswany, Srikant Jena and Vilas Muttamwar. The last named couldn’t be made minister and was appointed AICC general secretary before the swearing in at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Unglamorous portfolios had Kamat and Jena sulking despite promotion to the rank of ministers of state with independent charge. Kamat has even offered to quit and work for the party.
The exercise fell way short of the PM’s promise of “expansive” changes. But it’ll be unfair to dismiss it as a non-event.
On the positive side, Andhra MP Kishore Chandra Deo was inducted as cabinet minister for tribal affairs and panchayati raj, Salman Khursheed shifted to the high profile law and justice, Jairam Ramesh elevated and given rural development as cabinet minister and newcomer Jayanti Natarajan appointed MoS with independent charge of environment and forests.
Ramesh’s promotion to cabinet rank—rather than a mere change of portfolio — was necessitated by the presence of three ministers of state in the RD ministry. He couldn’t have had them reporting to him as MoS with independent charge.
The new land acquisition legislation for which there’s now a big clamour will have to be devised by Ramesh and Khursheed in their new avatars. A task cut out for them really— and to some extent Kishore Chandra Deo whose role as tribal affairs and panchayati raj minister would be no less significant in propagating the law in the countryside.
Deo’s arrival in the PM’s team was guided as much by Jagan Mohan Reddy’s anti-Congress thrusts in north coastal Andhra from where the minister hails.
New inductees like Milind Deora, Jitendra Singh and Rajiv Shukla have compounded the number of junior ministers. But in all, an opportunity half-used with fogies and laggards blocking the rise of Gen-X.