A cabinet reshuffle-cum-expansion exercise always elicits more ‘explanations’ from pundits than it warrants. And if the exercise is conducted in an election year, well, do add a few conspiracy theories to the general list. With the Prime Minister rejigging and expanding his team on Sunday, chatter has already broken out about why he didn’t go the ‘whole hog’ to induct more youthful members into the UPA’s ministerial team. It must be remembered that a cabinet induction process is not about a wholesale demographic change. The inclusion of young ‘technocratic’ MPs such as Jyotiraditya Scindia and Jitin Prasada does signal a much-needed younger blood into the government as well as in the policymaking team of the Grand Old Party. But their selection is more about performance and political expectations than it is about chronological freshness. Which is why Sunday’s manoeuvring should be seen as a welcome — and dare we say much delayed — signal to make ministerial responsibilities dependent on performance and not on other more ‘politically motivated’ criteria. One hopes, to take the case of the Sports Ministry, that the longstanding logjam that has created many an unsavoury ripple is removed with the entry of M.S. Gill as Minister of State with independent charge.
That the reshuffle has the forthcoming state and general elections in mind is an obvious matter. The logic of performance and (electoral) returns not only compels such re-arranging but actually demands it. The ministerial exits, thus, can be explained by shortcomings in performance in specific ministries — and it is a wise Prime Minister that connects portfolios with ministerial report cards. The fact that inclusions to ministries have also been made keeping political considerations in mind is also relevant. Manmohan Singh’s decision to keep ‘controversial’ figures such as Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren (with cases still pending against him) at bay is also a healthy sign that the buck of political compulsions has to stop somewhere and that somewhere is with him.
Whether there is another round of cabinet expansion in the near future is up to the PM to decide. Knowing the current landscape, the tweakings may go on until the UPA government feels satisfied that it has a competent team in place to do its ever-changing job. That political considerations will also fit into this scheme of things goes without saying. After all, a government that satisfies its mandate is a government that has the electoral advantage. And in that bigger picture, a Cabinet reshuffle or expansion is only the means, not the end.