Sheela Bhatt says the only logical question to be asked after the listless Cabinet reshuffle is: Has Congress President Sonia Gandhi started losing her grip over the political situation?
Wednesday's 'interim' Cabinet reshuffle may be merely 'changes of portfolio' and not expansionist in nature but it surely reveals that government is not on a confident footing to face the Budget session and coming assembly elections in several key states.
It could not go for bigger reshuffle due to these two dominant reasons.
As a result, the government continues to show its lack of purpose to improve its credibility. There are not enough political moves that promise to tackle corruption and incompetence within the government.
The Congress, it seems, doesn't have any fresh ideas for a holistic approach to solve the scores of problems it is facing in administration, in the Supreme Court and in Parliament. As expected, the imprint of Sonia Gandhi and fierce internal politics of the Congress was on display in the reshuffle.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taken a shelter against likely criticism by saying that bigger reshuffle would be done after the Budget.
The opposition to Dr Singh's government within the Congress party is more powerful than even the non-Congress opposition parties.
It seems good decisions are falling somewhere between the Prime Minister Office and 10, Janpath.
A purposeful Cabinet reshuffle may not have changed things overnight but it could have kick-started the change that people are waiting for. It could have been a contributing factor in the grand strategy to tackle immediate issues including price raise, corruption, the Telangana unrest and the issue of delivery of the government's ambitious programmes.
All said and done, the government is incoherent but not unstable and elections are a good 40 months away. Sonia Gandhi could have afforded to show a more combative mood. But not a single minister has been dropped. It will be taken as sign of weakening of the leadership.
It shows a conscious approach to bring in changes 'Congress style'. In their defence, a senior leader and Congress working committee member told rediff.com, "Congress isi rafter se chalti hai. (The Congress moves at this speed only.)"
With touch of superiority he said, "That's the reason behind the Congress's longevity. You know what happens to those who take fast and radical decisions."
Most of the media reports, related to likely cabinet reshuffle, have been proven inaccurate with Vilasrao Deshmukh gaining, Murli Deora losing and Praful Patel sliding in spite of a promotion.
Those who were rumoured to be eased out have been retained with their wings clipped like M S Gill, Kamal Nath and Virbhadra Singh, all three facing serious charges against them. This, precisely, gives a glimpse to people that Sonia Gandhi's writ is weakening or she simply lacks the ambition to run this government with, at least, some dressing of ideology
Deora is one of the biggest losers and Deshmukh has gained manifold with one of the important ministries with Rs 80,000 crore in annual budgets for prime schemes of the government. He will be used to check Sharad Pawar in rural constituencies. He will also be in the game to compete with newly-appointed Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.
C P Joshi is considered a good minister with a knack for going into detail but still he has been shifted out to make way for Deshmukh, who is not-known-for his efficiency. Under his rule Maharahstra's coffers touched rock bottom. This kind of musical chairs by Singh-Sonia is making this reshuffle aimless.
It is disappointing to note that efficiency quotient is not taken into account while going ahead with the reshuffle.
Deora's demotion is said to be due to his involvement in the corporate warfare over gas and petroleum related policy matters. It is public knowledge that Deora has been a family friend of the Ambanis for three decades. He has been close to Mukesh Ambani, whose rivals have been complaining about Deora being in a crucial ministry dealing daily with Reliance's core business. His shifting was just a correction of a grave mistake. Sonia and Dr Singh deserve credit for it.
For Jaipal Reddy, an intellectual and outsider of sorts, it was a huge pleasant surprise. He has been rewarded for not joining 11 Congress Members of Parliament from Telanagana in embarrassing the government by demanding a separate state.
K V Thomas and K C Venugopal have been accommodated to send a message to Kerala that a Christian and a Nair are acknowledged by New Delhi in a season of election. Vyalar Ravi has got the civil aviation ministry but it's a temporary charge.
Although, in last two months the Congress has got telecom and civil aviation into its fold from its allies but the overall picture has not been altered much for the allies or the Congress.
Sharad Pawar will be agriculture and food processing minister. He will not have charge of food and civil supplies anymore. But, food processing is also becoming a 'heavyweight' ministry with huge investment possibilities in India.
Many observers were terming the reshuffle as primary exercise to highlight the political message in Uttar Pradesh. The promotion of Salman Khurshid, Sriprakash Jaiswal and the induction of Beni Prasad Verma is a botched up exercise. Khurshid and Patel, as they say in New Delhi, are classic cases of being 'kicked up'.
Verma, whose qualification is that he is a Kurmi leader with through knowledge of the secrets of the Samajwadi Party, however, he is already upset because he was a Cabinet minister in the United Front government and is now an MoS with independent charge of steel. Khurshid and Jaiswal are not grassroots level leaders to contribute any more substantially than what they are doing now.
So, neither politically nor governance-wise is this cabinet going to perform perceptively different than yesterday's one.
The only logical question, at the end of day is has Sonia Gandhi, Congress supremo and most powerful leader in the government, started losing her grip over the political situation?