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PM's reshuffle fails to send a strong message

July 12, 2011 22:45 IST

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh affected what he has called the "last and final reshuffle before the polls in 2014". But what should have been an "expansive" exercise (in his words) sends a message of merely filling in some slots. It is also being seen as a lost opportunity by the prime minister in sending a strong message of giving a new look to his trouble-torn government, which has been hurling from one crisis to another.

Party leaders say it also sends the signal that the reshuffle is a reflection of the growing differences between prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, as they could not come to an agreement on a number of key persons and portfolios, which is why the bulk of the Cabinet post has been left untouched. The entire exercise looks like a patchwork that has been put together at random with Dr Singh, Rahul Gandhi, Ahmed Patel and Sonia Gandhi getting their own way in degrees.

Finally getting down to dropping some non-performers, the prime minister dropped seven ministers, which include Dayanidhi Maran, Murli Deora, B K Handique, M S Gill, Kanti Lal Bhuria, A Sai Pratap and Arun Yadav.

The most significant aspect of the reshuffle was that Veerapa Moily who was seen as unable to handle the law ministry was eased out and instead Salman Khurshid was brought in as the new law minister, at the same time retaining additional charge of minority affairs. The prime minister enjoys a good equation with Khurshid and he is also seen as an important component in terms of being a minority and being from UP.

Interestingly, the prime minister managed to get his way on key issues which are on his radar and in which he has a deep interest. Despite the best efforts of Sonia Gandhi, the prime minister managed to retain S M Krishna in external affairs, and managed to remove Jairam Ramesh from the environment ministry in view of the large number of complaints against him from corporate houses.

Jairam Ramesh was promoted to cabinet rank to send the message that he has been rewarded for his good work and at the same time given rural development, a portfolio in which Rahul Gandhi has a great deal of interest. But panchayati raj was separated from rural development and given to Kishore Chandra Deo and a part of it to Gurudas Kamat in the shape of drinking water and sanitation. However, even before the exercise could end, Kamat sent in his resignation, as he is believed to be unhappy with his portfolio, despite being promoted to minister of state independent charge.

After many false starts Kishore Chandra Deo has been brought in as a cabinet minister with charge of tribal affairs and panchayati raj. Known to be close to both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi his main qualification is his honest and clean image, which is sorely needed in a ministry where graft has become a middle name.

Beni Prasad verma, a senior kurmi leader from UP has been promoted to the cabinet keeping the substantial kurmi vote in eastern UP where Verma has influence. But Rahul failed to bring in any more leaders from UP into the council of ministers.

Dinesh Trivedi has been promoted to cabinet and is Mamta's choice for railways, while Sudeep Bandopadhyaya will be the new MoS from trinamool and would be in health. Mukul Roy who created a storm by ignoring the PM has been dropped from Railways and now only retains shipping. He is MoS.

The prime minister brought in 4 MoS independent charge but out of these Srikant Jena is unhappy with his portfolio programme implementation and statistics as well as not having been made a cabinet, while Gurudas Kamat has resigned and does not want drinking water and sanitation. He says he prefers to work for the party and has left for Mumbai.

All India Congress Committee spokesperson Jayanti Natrajan returns to the government after 13 years and is the new environment and forests minister. She is known to be in the good books of Sonia Gandhi.

Paban Singh Ghatowar is from Assam and replaces Handique. He was the pradesh returning officer for the organisational polls, in charge of UP where he got his mileage after a great deal of interaction with both Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. He has been given charge of north eastern affairs.

The ministers of state who have been inducted are Sandip Bandopadhyaya of the Trinamool, Charan Das Mahant, who is from Chattisgarh, Milind Deora, who replaces his father Murli Deora in the government, Rajiv Shukla, who gets parliamentary affairs and Jitender Singh who is the new MoS for home. He again is Gandhi's nominee in the home ministry, possibly to keep an eye on Chidambaram say sources. Milind gets telecom in the reshuffle even as Sachin Pilot is also retained as MoS telecom.

Interestingly, Kapil Sibal retains both Human Resource Development and telecom portfolio despite attempts to bring him down, while Veerapa Moily is moved to corporate affairs in place of Murli Deora. Salman gets law, while Anand Sharma gets additional charge of Dayanidhi Maran's portfolio, textiles, and Pawan Kumar Bansal goes back to water resources. Vilasrao Deshmukh has been demoted. From rural development and panchyati raj he now gets science and technology.

Renu Mittal in New Delhi