The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Heavy shuffle with light results

New Delhi, Jan. 29: The Manmohan Singh government’s second cabinet shuffle and expansion was billed as an overhaul to set in course the “direction of the ruling coalition”, but looks like an exercise with many changes without too much of a direction.

The Prime Minister had apparently wanted to rid his team of members who were either unwilling to accept his authority or were incompetent, weed out those against whom there were repeated complaints of misuse of office, create a stronger government-Congress link and bring in youth.

Nineteen inductions and a few changes later, Singh said: “We wanted to ensure proper regional representation and give importance to young and talented people.”

Did the exercise reflect this intention'

First, “proper regional representation”. Four of the 19 new members are from Andhra Pradesh and three each from Maharashtra and Punjab. From the five poll-bound states of Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Assam, Bengal and Kerala, there are only two: Vayalar Ravi of Kerala and G.K. Vasan of Tamil Nadu.

The logic for the heavy intake from Andhra was that it had returned as many as 29 MPs in the 2004 elections of whom only three ' Renuka Choudhury, S. Jaipal Reddy and Dasari Narayana Rao ' were made ministers. Choudhury and Reddy came to the Congress from the Telugu Desam and the Janata Dal, respectively, while Rao was a Rajya Sabha member.

Sources argued that “justice” had to be done to the Lok Sabha members.

In Maharashtra, the Congress felt, it had to consolidate the “gains” made in the recent bypolls while for Punjab, no rationale was provided save to say the party had to retrieve its lost base before the next elections. However, of the three from Punjab, two ' Ambika Soni and Ashwani Kumar ' are Rajya Sabha members.

The Hindi heartland was given the short shrift with Akhilesh Das, a former Lucknow mayor, being the lone induction from Uttar Pradesh.

The expectation was that Mohsina Kidwai would get a berth to fill up the minority quota, but she was passed up for A.R. Antulay, who has been plucked out of wilderness.

Today’s exercise fulfilled, to an extent, the latter part of the Prime Minister’s statement ' bringing in “young and talented” persons. P.K. Bansal, Anand Sharma, Jairam Ramesh and Ashwini Kumar could qualify in the “talented” category. Whether or not they have talent, the quartet is at least articulate. The same goes for Soni and Vayalar Ravi, both veterans, too.

Sharma was the party spokesman on foreign policy while Ramesh’s expertise lies in economics. As the convener of the National Advisory Council, headed by Sonia Gandhi, he is expected to be the interface with the government on social sector initiatives that are meant to promote the interests of the common man.

The “youth” brigade enhanced its presence with three representatives: Ajay Maken, D. Purandareshwari and M.M. Pallam Raju. Maken brings some experience with him because he was a minister in the Delhi government and was the Speaker in the Assembly. Raju, an engineer by training, was a member of the AICC’s training cell on policy issues.

Experience is at hand also in the shape of Sushil Kumar Shinde and Antulay, both former chief ministers, though some might argue they have too much of it.

If the exercise fell short of the Prime Minister’s expectations, sources said, it was mainly because he wanted to wield the broom at the top.

“In a monolith like the Congress that is not possible because there are checks and balances. Within the parameters, this will be considered a huge shuffle,” a functionary said.

With the allies, he could do nothing. While he did not wish to give Prem Chand Gupta, the minister for company affairs, a promotion, Lalu Prasad had his way.

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