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Will the Cabinet reshuffle help UPA in the long run?

July 31, 2012 23:59 IST

Fighting shy of affecting a complete overhaul of the union council of ministers where many ministers are holding dual charges, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi confined themselves to a mere change of portfolios before the monsoon session of Parliament begins on August 8. Renu Mittal reports.

Since Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi appears to be needing more time regarding his entry into the government, it is expected that a much more major exercise of making changes in the cabinet would be undertaken after the monsoon session of Parliament ends.

Sources say that it was Sonia's pressure which finally worked as she felt the country needed a full-time finance minister. She did not want bureaucrats taking key decisions in the finance ministry and it was her decision that P Chidambaram should be brought back as the finance minister.

In the notification issued by Rashtrapati Bhawan, Chidambaram becomes the finance minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde replaces him and is the new home minister, and Corporate Affairs Minister Veerapa Moily is given the additional charge of the power ministry.

Sources say that both Chidambaram and Shinde Sonia's choices, with 10 Janpath having rewarded Shinde for his loyalty to the leadership. Shinde, the first Dalit leader after former Congress leader Buta Singh to become the home minister.

He is also the front runner for the post of leader of the Lok Sabha in place of Pranab Mukherjee who has become the President of India. Some members of Parliament had written to suggest that Rahul should be made the leader of the Lok Sabha, but since Rahul has not become a minister, it is now highly unlikely that he would be given the chair.

Moily is known to be close to both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as Rahul. Moily's son and daughter are part of Rahul's brigade and considered close to the young leader.

Moily, who was Karnataka chief minister and is considered to be an efficient and competent man has written innumerable books including one on power. He has written extensively on administrative reforms, a fact which has been lauded in the government.

He comes into the power ministry at a time when for the last two days there has been an almost countrywide breakdown of first the northern grid, and then others bringing trains and essential services to a halt.

Shinde, who could not take power reforms forward was going blue in the face offering explanations, but now he has been promoted to the post of home minister. Loyalty to the top leadership takes one a long way in Indian politics.

He joined politics when he was a sub inspector and now he would be in charge of the law and order situation. Apart from his loyalty, sources say that he is also amenable to what the leadership wants and in this context would be able to handle files on various sensitive issues and persons, according to the political climate.

He has not been given a clean chit in the Adarsh housing scandal and on Monday, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan issued a statement that Shinde used to clear the least number of files in a day when he was the CM, while he (Chavan) has cleared the most -- 30 a day. He implied that as Maharashtra chief minister, Shinde was unimpressive.

With Parliament's Monsoon session set to roll in a week, the Opposition would be targetting Chidambaram, who has been named by them in the 2G spectrum scam. The Bharatiya Janata Party had decided to boycott Chidambaram in Parliament but then called it off.

The Congress leadership appears to have shrugged off this criticism in a clear signal that Sonia fully backs Chidambaram. He was the finance minister in the United Progressive Alliance-I government, and now as the UPA begins the end of its second tenure, he is back, probably to restore the government's image, bring down rising prices and generally give a much-needed boost to the economy and the reforms agenda which had slowed down.

It's a tall order, even for Chidambaram.

Renu Mittal in New Delhi