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The INSIDE stories behind PM's Cabinet reshuffle

June 17, 2013 21:40 IST

The Cabinet reshuffle undertaken by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday was dictated primarily by political considerations with an eye on the year-end assembly elections and the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, reports Anita Katyal.

Monday’s rejig exercise stands out in sharp contrast to last October’s ministerial shake-up when a conscious effort was made to bring in capable ministers and also to impart a youthful profile to the new team.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had then been instrumental in ensuring the promotion of several junior ministers. This time, however, the Nehru-Gandhi scion focused his attention on the party revamp while the Cabint rejig was left to the prime minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Rahul Gandhi’s intervention has ensured the induction of younger people in the All India Congress Committee organisation, reducing the average age of the new Congress team to 52 years.

The induction of Sis Ram Ola, Oscar Fernandes, Girija Vyas and K S Rao as Cabinet ministers was driven essentially by caste and regional considerations.

The same yardstick applied o the appointment of the new ministers of state Manikrao Gavit, Santosh Chowdhury, J D Seelam and E M S Natchiappan.

The 86-year-old Sis Ram Ola is a five-time Parliamentarian who did a stint in the first United Progressive Alliance government in the labour and mines ministries. He failed to make the cut the second time round as his performance in the ministries was found wanting.

The Congress leadership was, however, forced to reward the seasoned Jat leader in the hope that his re-induction will boost the party’s prospects in poll-bound Rajasthan.

The induction of 66-year-old Girija Vyas, MP from Chittorgarh in Rajasthan, was also dictated by caste and electoral considerations. With former surface transport minister C P Joshi being appointed Congress general secretary, the party thought it prudent to replace him with another Brahmin leader from Rajasthan.

Girija Vyas has been a minister in the Rajasthan government and at the Centre. A poet and author, she was head of the National Commission for Women from 2005 to 2011 and also headed the AICC media department briefly. She replaces Ajay Maken as the new minister for housing and poverty alleviation.

Labour Minister Mallikarujun Kharge was moved to the high-profile Railway Ministry to mollify the veteran Dalit leader who was miffed when his claim for the Karnataka chief minister’s post was overlooked after the recent assembly election.

The Congress leadership obviously wanted to send out a positive message to the Dalit community, which had taken to the streets when Kharge was not made the CM.

Having recently captured power in Karnataka, the Congress is hoping to consolidate on its victory in next year’s Lok Sabha polls. It moved quickly to appease Kharge as it could not allow him to sulk indefinitely given his following among the Dalits.

Oscar Fernandes, also from Karnataka, was moved from the party to the government. Fernandes earned a Cabinet berth -- he was allotted the important surface transport ministry -- primarily because of the “loyalty factor.” It is well known that the Congress president considers him to be a loyal, dependable and hard working person.

K S Rao, who represents the Eluru constituency from Andhra Pradesh and is a five-term Lok Sabha MP, had threatened to quit when he failed to find a place in the Cabinet in last October’s reshuffle.

The Congress is on the back foot in Andhra Pradesh on account of the ongoing demand for a separate state of Telangana and the threat posed by the YSR Congress. It did not want to add to its woes and instead decided to buy peace by rewarding Rao with the textiles ministry.

The ministers of state sworn in on Monday included the nine-term MP Manikrao Gavit from Maharashtra and Santosh Chowdhury, a Dalit leader from Punjab. The Congress has to contend with the growing influence of the Bahujan Samaj Party in Punjab and Chowdhury’s appointment, it believes, can help stop the scheduled caste vote from moving way from the party fold.

E M S Natchiappan, who was first placated with a Rajya Sabha seat for withdrawing his claim on the Sivganga seat in Tamil Nadu in favour of Finance Minister P Chidambaram in the 2004 elections, was further rewarded with a slot as a junior minister in the commerce and industry ministry.

Anita Katyal in New Delhi