It seems now like something we may have imagined, but we can swear that not too long ago Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had stated in a public forum that he was keen on bringing on board his ship young blood and new ministers based on their potential to perform. Perhaps Mr Singh hopes to act on what he said at a future date. But in the first Cabinet reshuffle since the UPA returned to power in May 2009, what is in evidence is an act of easy juggling rather than a proactive team-formation. The last year has not been the best of times for the Congress-led UPA government. Which would have made it more pertinent to undertake a ministerial reshuffle that gave out the signal that Mr Singh's government was taking strong and visible steps to firm up its image. After Wednesday's take-one-onion-from-one-sack-and-put-it-in-another-sack exercise, an opportunity has been lost.
No minister has been dropped from the last dispensation. The departure of former telecom minister A Raja, if one is willing to recall, was made after the government faced considerable flak for his alleged involvement in the 2G spectrum allocation scandal rather than because of action taken after a sober report card being drawn up. A meritocratic dispensation was expected to drive portfolio distribution on Wednesday. Instead, what was largely on display was a retrogressive, anachronistic divvying up of ministries among allies based on regional, casteist, quota-type politics. We do know the imperatives of coalition politics and governance. But even keeping this is in mind, the Congress - no longer a greenhorn in handling coalitions - could have decided on a ministerial team that wasn't so openly based on slicing the pie along party lines to keep allies happy. It's silly to expect that in this day and age, states going to the polls in the next few months will vote according to whether 'their person' has been made a Cabinet minister or not. According to that logic, it would have been wise to have strewn a few extra portfolios in the Trinamool Congress camp just to facilitate its victory in the upcoming West Bengal elections.
No one is making the case here for a complete shakedown. It makes eminent sense, for instance, to leave the home, defence, finance and external ministries unchanged. But a ministerial formation is also about the brand showing the product. And this would have been the opportune time for
Mr Singh, with his government harbouring both product and branding deficiencies, to set the matter right by making a gesture that's more than just shuffling the same deck of cards, some of which, almost two years after the formation of UPA 2, look positively dog-eared.