There were no real rabbits pulled out of the hat — and just a few elephants pushed out of the room. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh never needed a course in playing things down and when he met the group of editors late last month, he had indeed told his audience that the next Cabinet reshuffle would be a “work in progress”.
But coming at a juncture when the UPA government really needed to send out a strong signal against the chipping away of its image as a clean and reforms-driven team at the Centre, Tuesday’s much-awaited reshuffle was a missed opportunity.
Barring a question mark still hanging on the performance of the external affairs minister, the government didn’t need to change ministers heading the important ministries of finance, home and defence — and it didn’t. But there was a strong rationale to include new fresh faces and replace jaded ones in Mr Singh’s team if the UPA’s commitment to meritocracy and youth was to be driven home and taken seriously.
Instead, what we have is, at best, a mixed move betraying too much caution, and, at worst, an artful jugglery at a time when more than just eye-hand coordination skills were needed to be displayed.
The decision to take the rather noisy Jairam Ramesh out of the environment ministry and replace him with the less voluble — ironic, considering she has been a successful Congress spokesperson — Jayanthi Natarajan should bode well for a government backing and forthing too much on the industrialisation-developmental front.
Though to his credit, Mr Ramesh did put some life into a portfolio that is becoming increasingly relevant by the day.
Railways remain a Trinamool ministry — instead of being in charge of a true-blue technocrat. But hopefully, we will now have a minister whose day job is focused on his, well, day job. The inclusion of Milind Deora as a minister of state is welcome.
But instead of the inclusion of more young capable faces like Mr Deora and Jitendra Singh (new minister of state, home affairs), the government still seems to be obsessed about doing a ‘balancing act’. A reshuffle is as much about bringing the best on board as it is about maximising a political advantage. Mr Singh, in the thick of a critical period of his stewardship, may have missed both opportunities.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going, or so goes the cliché.
Either the UPA government hasn’t realised that the ‘going’ has got tough — with consequences it may have to face in the assembly polls next year in Uttar Pradesh and other key states. Or, more worryingly, it believes that such a reshuffle is all that is required to ‘get going’.
And if the people pinning their hopes on a more resounding, proactive UPA government realise that the latest reshuffle is little else but a shuffle, when what is really needed is a forward march, Mr Singh’s incremental changes — or as he would prefer to call it, “work in progress” — would be honestly seen as a missed opportunity for the nation, the government and the ruling party.