The element of surprise wasn’t as much in elevations and new inductions in the council of ministers as in the allocation of portfolios in Sunday’s reshuffle.
The race for the external affairs ministry ended with Salman Khurshid bagging the prize charge for which he was tipped much before the ugly controversy over a trust he runs for the disabled. But new arrivals in the ministries of railways, human resource development, petroleum and law and justice were a trifle unexpected.
Pallam Raju's elevation from MoS defence to human resource development minister in cabinet rank could be explained in terms of the Congress's anxiety to recoup the ground it has lost in Andhra. But Shashi Tharoor's appointment as his junior was an incongruity, given the Kerala MP's international profile and undisputed talent.
Another success story among junior ministers is that of Ashwani Kumar, the new minister for law and justice. The lawyer-politician has been elevated to cabinet rank from being a minister of state, unlike Ajay Maken and Dinsha Patel, who earned the spurs after holding independent charge of their previous ministries.
Kumar's articulate and reportedly has the Prime Minister's ear. His stout defense of the government against the Opposition and the civil society over graft charges seems to have fetched him the double promotion.
Recognition of meritorious Gen-X leaders is evident as much in the elevation of Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot and Jitendra Singh as ministers of state with independent charge. They are counted among Rahul Gandhi's peers on the government side. In their new roles, Scindia and Pilot will be part of a core ministerial team that is expected to push the economic reforms agenda.
Jaipal Reddy's replacement by Veerappa Moily in the petroleum ministry ostensibly to push energy sector reforms has raised eyebrows. Similarly, Chandigarh MP Pawan Bansal's transition from parliamentary affairs to railways has befuddled many, not because he lacks experience but the fact that he represents a Union territory in the Lok Sabha.
Bansal's appointment is a break from convention as his predecessors in past years were from big states: West Bengal, Bihar, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. Maybe that'll help him strike a balance in assessing and meeting the demands of various states, argued a Congress functionary. "He wouldn't have the bias railways ministers from larger states have historically shown for their native provinces," he said.
Be that as it may, Bansal's junior colleagues in the ministry — KJ Surya Prakash Reddy and Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary — are from Andhra and West Bengal. As first time ministers, they'd go the extra length to make an impact in their home states.
Those privy to the PM’s thinking dismiss however such perceptions. They insist Bansal would work in tandem with finance minister P Chidambaram to make the moribund rail system contribute to the economy by generating revenue and improving services impacting the people. “That's the real reason for the Chandigarh MP's arrival at Rail Bhawan.”