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How much of 'Rahul stamp' will be on the Cabinet reshuffle?

Last updated on: October 26, 2012 21:51 IST

Will Rahul influence the Cabinet reshuffle?

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Neerja Chowdhury in New Delhi

While Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi has made it clear that he will not be joining the government, it remains to be seen how much say he will have in the Cabinet reshuffle on October 28, says Neerja Chowdhury

The reshuffle on October 28, which comes after many postponements, will possibly be the last one in the United Progressive Alliance-II government.

While it is a guessing game for the media and even for politicians, it will be 10, Janpath (Congress president Sonia Gandhi's residence) -- and the prime minister – who will be privy to what is really going to happen.

The jig around of ministers this time is being closely watched to ascertain how much of a 'Rahul touch' it will carry.

It is expected to have the 'Rahul stamp', and the exercise has been conducted by the top three -- Sonia, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Rahul -- and not just the Top Two as in the past.  

All of last week, there was a buzz about a 'Kamraj Plan' in the offing, shifting some senior leaders from the government to the party, and inducting the younger members of Parliament to give the government a new look, and a signal that Rahul was now readying his team for a bigger role in the future.

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Image: Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi


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Rahul's youth brigade likely to be inducted

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Not many senior leaders may be shown the door -- though the names of Union Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahay and Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma are being mentioned in this connection, Sahay for his involvement in Coalgate and Beni Babu for shooting his mouth too often.

But from all accounts, several belonging to Rahul's youth brigade may come in as ministers of state, and they are all in their 30s or have just crossed 40, and most of them have cut their political teeth working with Rahul in the Youth Congress.

They include Ashok Tanwar, a Dalit from Haryana, tribal MP Pradip Majhi, who has been an active parliamentarian during the UPA-II regime, Meenakshi Natarajan, also All India Congress Committee secretary from Mandsaur, Manicka Tagore, an MP from Tamil Nadu, and Nagpur MP Jyoti Mirdha, who has been active in parliamentary committees highlighting health issues and is also grand-daughter of veteran Jat leader from Rajasthan, Nathuram Mirdha.

It is also possible that a couple of younger ministers, already in government, such as Union Minister of State for Communication and Information Technology Sachin Pilot and Union Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya Scindia may be upgraded to become MOS with independent charges.

Besides the Rahul Brigade, other younger MPs may also in come such as Shashi Tharoor who had to quit following the Indian Premier League controversy.

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Image: Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia


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Manish Tewari may be 'rewarded' this time

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And with SM Krishna stepping down from the Cabinet ahead of the reshuffle and the buzz being that he may be sent back to Karnataka, then Tharoor would be a valuable addition for Dr Manmohan Singh, particularly if foreign affairs goes back under the PM.

Ludhiana MP and Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari is also expected to make it this time, to reward him for his competency as party spokesperson. 

The 'Rahul factor' may have been one reason why the reshuffle was deferred, though the ostensible reason given was the 'shraddhs' between end-September to mid-October.

Rahul's two recent meetings with President Pranab Mukherji and a long session with the prime minister fuelled speculation about what was in the works, though the Gandhi-Nehru scion is expected to be number two in the party, and in the words of a Congress wag, "He will want to be engaged in ministry-making than joining the ministry himself."

It seems that Rahul had wanted to go in for dramatic changes rather than a tinkering exercise -- just as he was keen for the party to go it alone, be it in Tamil Nadu or West Bengal polls, when polls were held in these states, but at that time he was overruled by senior leaders, including his mother Sonia Gandhi, who were more cautious in their approach.

Besides underscoring Rahul's new role, there are three other imperatives which necessitate a reshuffle at this juncture.

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Image: Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari


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Important vacancies in ministries

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One, there are important vacancies in the ministries -- caused by the exit of former telecom minister A Raja and former communications minister Dayanidhi Maran because of the 2G scam, the death of former minister of science and technology Vilasrao Deshmukh, resignation of Himachal Pradesh Congress chief Vir Bhadra Singh over charges of corruption -- that have to be filled.

Those holding dual charge are expected to be divested of one of them.

The Trinamool Congress's exit from the UPA has also left holes in the ministry at the MoS level -- which provides an ideal opportunity for the induction of Rahul's team.

But it also means that the Congress will have to give adequate representation to its partymen and women from West Bengal, and the names of MP Deepa Das Munshi, Behrampore MP Adhir Chaudhary and West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee chief Pradeep Bhattacharya are doing the rounds as possible inductees.  

If CP Joshi is allowed to retain the railways with him as additional charge, this too would signal Rahul having his way, for Joshi is seen to enjoy his confidence.

The importance of railways, an important infrastructure department which requires reform and is also an interface with the 'aam aadmi', does not need to be emphasised.

The Congress may also use the reshuffle to send a message to the poll-bound states such as Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh this year, and Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi next year.

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Image: Railway Minister CP Joshi
Photographs: CP Joshi's website

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Congress will have to fulfill its promise to Chiranjeevi

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In seven of the 11 poll-bound states in the next one year, the Congress will be pitted directly against the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Former deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha Rahman Khan, for instance, is being tipped to come into the Cabinet possibly as minister in charge of corporate affairs. If Krishna goes back to the state, then someone like former Karnataka CM Dharam Singh may come in.

The party will also have to fulfill its promise to Chiranjeevi, who had merged his Praja Rajyam Party with the Congress. The third facet of the reshuffle may be the signal that a beleaguered UPA-II leadership might like to send, through it, on the social side.

It has already indicated its seriousness about the next phase of economic reforms and there is a new and proactive finance minister already in the saddle.

But now it has to revitalise the image of the government on the social issues which affect the 'aam aadmi'.  

The party's commitment to environment issues will also be watched to see if Environment Minister Jayanthi Natrajan -- she has opposed the powers proposed to be given to the National Investment Board to overrule the ministry's concerns about environment in the case of large investment projects -- is moved out of the ministry.

The significance of a reshuffle exercise now -- its postponement broke the momentum the ruling Congress had built up with the economic reforms it recently rolled out -- would lie more in its symbolism than its substance. No matter how dynamic, it would take six to eight months for any new incumbent to learn the ropes in a new ministry and by that time the party will be getting into election mode.

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Image: Tirupati member of legislative assembly and Telugu star Chiranjeevi


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