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New jobs for old as Prime Minister soft-shuffles pack

india Updated: Jan 20, 2011 03:01 IST
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Three new faces were inducted, and the status or portfolios of 33 changed in the first reshuffle-cum-expansion of the UPA’s council of ministers, 18 months after it returned to power for a second term in May 2009. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described it as a “minor reshuffle.”

“After the budget session of Parliament, we will do a more expansive exercise," he said, holding out both hope and fear for aspirants who had been disappointed and non-performers who had been spared this time.

In September 2010, Singh had said he would carry out the reshuffle before the winter session of Parliament. He’d added that he wanted to bring down the average age of his council of ministers.

But when the reshuffle finally took place on Wednesday, it turned out to be a timid exercise, without any larger political message — be it about improving the image of the government or rewarding or punishing performance. See photo gallery

Senior ministers Kamal Nath, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Virbhadra Singh, Murli Deora, Jaipal Reddy and CP Joshi have been divested of their previous portfolios. Nath gets Urban Development and Deshmukh, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj. Reddy moved from Urban Development to Petroleum and Joshi from Rural Development to Highways and Transport.

“In most cases, one is unable to understand whether it is a punishment or a reward,” a minister said. “This reshuffle proves that the government has no ability or courage to take decisions. There is absolutely no political message,” said BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain.

“This is a minor reshuffle largely within the existing council of ministers. Larger external changes may happen in the not too distant future,” said Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi. Read Full list

A senior Congress leader said the original idea of going for a wholesome revamp involving the sacking of a few seniors was shelved following the sudden change in the country’s political atmosphere. “If the reshuffle had happened before the winter session, it would have been drastic. Now, the party’s focus is to close ranks and resist the opposition onslaught,” he said.

Starting from the winter session of Parliament, the government has been under severe attack from the Opposition on various corruption charges, including the 2G scam.

A Raja was forced to quit as the telecom minister as a result, but the Opposition has kept up the attack on the government with its demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to look into the scandals, and its insistence on the removal of Chief Vigilance Commissioner, PJ Thomas.

If sacking of ministers was avoided to preempt the possibility of internal strife in the Congress, the half-hearted reshuffle may not fully achieve that objective.

Beni Prasad Verma — who was a cabinet minister 14 years ago in the United Front government — is unhappy that he got only a minister of state (MoS) rank.

Virbhadra Singh, who has been moved to a less significant ministry (micro, small & medium enterprises), did not hide his displeasure either.

With the reshuffle over and another one at least four months away from now, the next changes will be targetted at the organisational structure of the party.

Several young leaders in the party who had aspired for berths in the council of ministers have been told by the party leadership that they would get opportunities to play proactive roles.

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