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Union Cabinet gets younger

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was guided by three factors in the UPA government's first substantial reshuffle-cum-expansion.

india Updated: Feb 04, 2006 19:18 IST

THE PRIME Minister has said he was guided by three factors in the UPA government's first substantial reshuffle-cum-expansion: regional balance; induction of talented young MPs and promotions to some colleagues. To a great extent, this promise is reflected in the new council of ministers, except possibly in the overabundance of members from Rajya Sabha. And also, smaller states like Chhattisgarh and Uttaranchal still do not have a minister at the Centre.

Moreover, the expansion has imparted the ministerial council a younger look even as Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi prolonged the gestation for the still younger Turks like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot and Milind Deora without casting aside non-performers. Citing Ajay Maken and Anand Sharma, the Congress chief seemed to suggest that those waiting in the wings would do well with probation in the party organisation.

Singh did not drop any Minister. But he did clip high profile Mani Shankar Aiyar's wings, by giving the prized petroleum portfolio to former Mumbai mayor Murli Deora.

Equipped with the Tourism and Culture charge, Ambika Soni seems to have lost the political weight she had as an AICC official.

The portfolio was earlier with Renuka Chaudhary as an MoS. In all the PM inducted 15 new faces, correcting greatly, the regional and social imbalance in his 20 month-old team.

He also rewarded three Ministers of State with Cabinet ranks: Congress' Kapil Sibal and Santosh Mohan Deb and RJD's Prem Chand Gupta.

Rated highly as Minister for Science and Technology, Sibal is the government's front-ranking spokesman in Parliament. Elected from Silchar, Deb’s elevation has as much to with ministerial performance as with the impending Assam elections.

From Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where too elections are due shortly, the PM inducted Vayalar Ravi in the Cabinet ranks and G K Vasan as MoS with Independent charge. Given his Left of Centre resume, Ravi is better equipped than former CM A K Antony to counter the Left Front in Kerala; Vasan’s arrival recognises father G K Moopanar’s legacy in the AIADMK-ruled State.

Barring Gupta’s promotion and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha’s Shibu Soren’s re-entry, Singh’s second reshuffle-cum-expansion, since the UPA assumed power in May 2004, was an all-Congress affair. Of the 10 Cabinet ministers, Soni, Deora and Ravi are first-timers.

Together with Ashwini Kumar (MoS Industry) and P K Bansal (MoS Finance), Soni represents Punjab, where polls are due in early 2007. The three Cabinet inductions from Maharashtra — Deora and former CMs A R Antulay and Sushilkumar Shinde are counterfoil to the NCP’s heavyweight presence at the Centre: Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel.

Moreover, the Congress’s growing graph in the state — where the Shiv Sena is in disarray — cannot be sustained without reclaiming its Dalit and Muslim base.

Entrusted with the crucial Power portfolio, Shinde is the party’s additional scheduled caste face in the Cabinet while Antulay and J&K’s Saifuddin Soz are the connects with the minorities.

Antulay, in fact, will head the newly-created Ministry of Minority Affairs and Soz, the Congress’s lone MP from the Valley, could, as Minister for Water Resources, lend India a psychological edge over Pakistan in the Baglihar Dam controversy.The greatest experimentation has been in picking up the dozen junior ministers.

Among others, the debut of Ajay Maken (Urban Development), D Purandareswari (Human Resource Development), M M Pallam Raju (Defence), Anand Sharma (External Affairs) and Jairam Ramesh, could help build a second line, pack dynamism in governance and attract the youth in states from where they come.

Sonia justified the large Andhra contingent, including T Subbarami Reddy, citing the number of Congress MPs the state contributed in 2004.

On his part, Singh remarked: “Andhra and Maharashtra are important. So is Tamil Nadu.”