Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced a reshuffle of his Cabinet, adding that it will be the last one before the 2014 general elections. It’s an uncharacteristically categorical statement from Singh, likely made in part as a way of signalling to his detractors that he’s the boss, not just a rubber stamp.
Singh brought in eight new faces and dropped seven non-performers in an effort to improve the ‘deliverability quotient’ of his government at a time when no important state assembly polls are on the horizon. The most notable changes were the removal of Jairam Ramesh from the Environment and Forests Ministry, and Veerappa Moily from the Law and Justice Ministry. In addition, a new Drinking Water and Sanitation Ministry was carved out of the gigantic Rural Development Ministry, with control handed to Gurudas Kamat.
A sulking Kamat resigned hours later because he wanted a ‘better’ portfolio – an unwise move, with Kamat apparently not appreciating that the new ministry will be one of the pivotal departments for providing electoral ammunition for the ruling Congress Party in the next election. After all, half a million villages’ dreams will rest with this ministry and its ability to provide them safe drinking water and modern sanitation facilities.
While Ramesh, viewed inside and outside the government as an ‘obstructionist’ environment minister, has been kicked up and elevated to full cabinet rank, Moily has been punished for his poor handling for the government in front of the Supreme Court, and so has been stripped of the Law and Justice portfolio. Gandhi family loyalist Salman Khurshid, meanwhile, has been made the new law and justice minister, with additional responsibility for minority affairs.
The eight new faces in the council of ministers are: Cabinet Minister V Kishore Chandra Deo (Tribal Affairs and Pachayati Raj), Ministers of State (Independent Charge) Jayanthi Natarajan (Environment and Forests), Paban Singh Ghatowar (Development of North Eastern Region), and Ministers of State Sudip Bandopadhyaya (Health and Family Welfare), Charan Das Mahant (Agriculture and Food Processing Industries), Jitendra Singh (Home Affairs), Milind Deora (Communications and Information Technology) and Rajiv Shukla (Parliamentary Affairs).
The seven ministers dropped for various reasons are: Dayanidhi Maran (Textiles, who actually resigned last week), Murli Deora (Corporate Affairs), BK Handique (Development of North Eastern Region), MS Gill (Statistics and Programme Implementation), Kanti Lal Bhuria (Tribal Affairs), A Sai Prathap (Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises) and Arun S Yadav (Agriculture and Food Processing Industries). Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her political secretary, Ahmed Patel, personally spoke to all the dropped ministers as a gesture of goodwill.
Another interesting appointment was that of Dinesh Trivedi as the new railways minister with full cabinet rank, meaning the railway portfolio has remained with Trinamool Congress. This announcement suggests that his party boss, Mamata Banerjee — the former railways minister and presently the chief minister of West Bengal — still feels insecure.
When she joined the UPA 2 government in May 2009, with 19 MPs, she was told that she could have three cabinet ministers and three junior ministers or ministers of state. But she reportedly didn’t want any of her party colleagues to be full-fledged cabinet ministers and thus present a challenge to her in future. As a result, she nominated herself for the cabinet post and others as junior ministers. By agreeing to make Trivedi a full cabinet minister rather than Mukul Roy, who until last week was the frontrunner to succeed her at the Railways Ministry, Banerjee has played it safe. After all, Trivedi is originally from Gujarat, while Roy is a Bengali, and so could be more of a threat.