Swap, Shuffle, Swap

President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with newly-sworn-in ministers at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi

President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with newly-sworn-in ministers at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday reshuffled his council of ministers after 20 months. While he did not drop a single minister, he maintained the status quo by continuing with the top five ministers handling finance, home, defence, external affairs and human resources development. Mr S. Jaipal Reddy, one of the cleanest faces in the Cabinet, will now deal with the key portfolio of petroleum and natural gas.

Dr Singh changed (adding to and deleting) the portfolios of over a dozen Cabinet ministers in this exercise, including those of Mr Sharad Pawar, Mr Virbhadra Singh, Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh, Mr S. Jaipal Reddy, Mr Kamal Nath, Mr Vayalar Ravi, Mr Murli Deora, Mr C.P. Joshi, Mr Subodh Kant Sahay, Dr M.S. Gill, Mr Pawan Kumar Bansal, Mr B.K. Handique and Kumari Selja.
After the swearing-in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Wednesday evening, the Prime Minister described the exercise as a “minor” one, promising a “more expansive exercise” after the Budget Session of Parliament starting next month.
Political watchers were, however, left bewildered by the timing, scope and logic of the exercise, saying nothing much appeared to have been done barring the switching of portfolios between known faces. Though 37 changes were made, there were only three new names. Some analysts felt an opportunity to send the right signal to the people, after a troublesome year of scams, had been lost. No one connected to any controversy regarding alleged financial irregularity was punished with removal. Dr M.S. Gill was the only one shifted, from the sports and youth affairs ministry, after the Commonwealth Games fiasco. No significant new talent was brought in either and the portfolio swaps defeated logic; they appeared to have been effected without much thought on whether the incoming minister had qualities significantly better than his predecessor.
While the Prime Minister elevated Mr Praful Patel, Mr Sriprakash Jaiswal and Mr Salman Khurshid to the Cabinet, he also gave Mr Ajay Maken and Prof. K.V. Thomas, who were already ministers of state, independent charge of different portfolios.
Several ministers who were associated with the Commonwealth Games — Mr S. Jaipal Reddy, Dr M.S. Gill and Kumari Selja — got new portfolios. Mr Jaipal Reddy was earlier handling urban development, Dr Gill was in charge of youth affairs and sports while Kumari Selja was minister for tourism and housing and urban poverty alleviation. Dr Gill has now got a ministry of lesser importance, statistics and programme implementation while Kumari Selja has got culture and housing and urban poverty alleviation.
In the new setup, Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh has got the key portfolio of rural development and panchayati raj — in which both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi take a keen interest. Mr Deshmukh, a former Maharashtra chief minister who rose from being sarpanch of his native village of Babhalgaon in Latur district, will have an opportunity to show his abilities.
Mr Kamal Nath was shifted from the road transport and highways ministry to urban development. Mr Murli Deora got corporate affairs (moved from petroleum and natural gas), Mr C.P. Joshi got road transport and highways (from rural development and panchayati raj), Mr Virbhadra Singh got micro, small and medium enterprises (from steel), Mr Praful Patel got heavy industries and public enterprises (from civil aviation), Mr Salman Khurshid got water resources, besides minority affairs (from corporate affairs). Mr B.K. Handique had to give up mines. Mr Pawan Kumar Bansal got science and technology and earth sciences, but retains parliamentary affairs; he earlier held the water resources portfolio.
The Prime Minister lessened Mr Sharad Pawar’s ministerial burden by giving his portfolios of consumer affairs and food and public distribution to Prof. K.V. Thomas as MoS (independent charge). The NCP chief, however, got the ministry of food processing industries and retained the agriculture portfolio.
Politically, the election-going states of Uttar Pradesh and Kerala got important ministries. UP got two Cabinet-rank ministers — Mr Jaiswal and Mr Khurshid — as well as MoS for steel (independent charge) Beni Prasad Verma and three MoS Jitin Prasada, R.P.N. Singh and Mr Pradeep Jain.
Mr Beni Prasad Verma was earlier a Cabinet minister in the United Front government when he belonged to the Samajwadi Party.
Kerala got civil aviation in addition to overseas Indian affairs. Senior minister Vayalar Ravi will handle both these portfolios. Prof. K.V. Thomas got consumer affairs and food and public distribution, and the new minister, K.C. Venugopal, was made MoS for power.
Though six ministers took the oath at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Wednesday evening, only three were new — Mr Beni Prasad Verma, Mr K.C. Venugopal and Mr Ashwani Kumar. The other three, Mr Praful Patel, Mr Sriprakash Jaiswal and Mr Salman Khurshid, who were earlier ministers of state, took the oath as Cabinet ministers.
While two Congress allies — DMK and Trinamul Congress — did not seek berths ahead of the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, not a single new woman was inducted in Wednesday’s exercise.

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