Prime Minister Manmohan Singh dropped seven ministers, inducted eight and elevated three in his much-hyped cabinet reshuffle that led to an unprecedented show of disagreement in the ranks.
Singh’s big-ticket rejig did not pull up the non-performers, nor did it give a better deal to the young to prove their mettle. The average age of the PM’s cabinet is now 65, against 61 before the reshuffle.
While 50% agreed that this move had failed to improve the government’s image, 70% respondents said the prime minister had failed to deliver on his promise of a youth-oriented cabinet.
Within a few hours of the new list of ministers getting out, Maharashtra strongman Gurudas Kamat quit for being elevated only to the independent MoS rank when he had expected a cabinet berth. Kamat was shifted from home and IT and telecom to the newly created department of drinking water and sanitation.
As predicted by HT on July 9, Singh did not touch the ‘big four’ — finance, home, defence and external affairs — but shifted M Veerappa Moily from law to corporate affairs and brought Salman Khursheed in his place.
A visibly upset Moily said, “I am a reformist, but there are conservatives and vested interests. There was a campaign by vested interests.” He said he received the flack for the mistakes committed by administrative ministries.
Similarly, MoS Srikant Jena, who was given an independent charge, was stated to be upset on “still being denied” a cabinet rank. Jena was given the programme implementation charge and continued to be chemicals and fertilisers MoS under DMK’s MK Alagiri.
Singh, however, said, “As far as I am concerned, this is the last reshuffle before we go to polls (in 2014),” and the reshuffle reflects a “balance necessary between various states, consideration of efficiency and consideration of continuity” in the government.
No DMK representative was inducted on Tuesday as replacements for A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran – both had to exit the cabinet for their alleged roles in the 2G spectrum scam – as party chief M Karunanidhi sought time till his party’s general council later this month. "Two slots have been kept vacant for DMK as part of coalition dharma,” Singh said.
The PM, however, admitted: “There are bound to be problems when there is redistribution of portfolios. We have taken into account the best interests of the country.” Even former environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s new assignment as the minister for rural development led to the interpretation that since he was a pro-active “green” minister often courting
controversies, he had to be shifted out.
Significantly, MPs who are said to be part of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s team were made ministers of state — Jitendra Singh (home), Milind Deora (communication and IT) and Rajiv Shukla (parliamentary affairs).
The PM again said he wanted Gandhi to join his government. “I requested him several times to join the cabinet, but he said he had responsibilities in the organisation."
Among the additions, veteran Lok Sabha MP from coastal Andhra Pradesh V Kishore Chandra Deo entered the cabinet for the first time, making him the second minister from the state after S Jaipal Reddy.
The other new faces were Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan, who replaced Ramesh as environment and forests minister (independent charge), Dibrugarh MP Paban Singh Ghatowar (development of northeastern states) and Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandopadhyaya (health and family welfare).
Trinamool Congress leader Dinesh Trivedi was elevated to the cabinet rank and given the railways portfolio left vacant by Mamata Banerjee after she became West Bengal chief minister.
With an eye on the Uttar Pradesh polls next year, Kurmi leader Beni Prasad Verma was made a cabinet minister for steel, a portfolio he earlier held as a minister of state with independent charge.
The main opposition BJP dubbed the reshuffle an "aimless rotation" falling far short of public expectations.
"The reshuffle clearly shows that the government does not care about popular sentiments. People expected significant changes this time," BJP’s Shahnawaz Hussain said.