|Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the launch of mobile number portability services in New Delhi on Thursday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Jan. 20: The debate in Congress circles on yesterdays cabinet shuffle is revolving around the party-government relationship, talent pool and questions whether the leadership wanted to purge the system.
The shuffle has signalled a subtle shift in the party-government relationship. Congress insiders feel that the party leadership now appears less accommodative of the Prime Ministers assertiveness.
While Manmohan Singhs concerns are performance and integrity, Sonia Gandhi has to take a comprehensive view and take decisions based more on compulsions than choice, a Congress leader said.
The Prime Minister would ideally have not liked to have Sushil Kumar Shinde as power minister, Vilasrao Deshmukh in rural development or C.P. Joshi in surface transport.
But it was difficult for the party to find a replacement to Shinde who is a Dalit leader as well as a trusted loyalist, the Congress leader said. The symbolic value of such leaders in a caste-ridden society is so much that Shinde had been made a candidate for Vice-President. He had also served as governor and chief minister.
Vilasrao Deshmukh, now in charge of the Congresss rural agenda with the flagship programmes of MNREGA and Bharat Nirman falling under his responsibility, is the biggest mass leader of the party in Maharashtra and any decision on him cannot be made solely on his ministerial excellence.
In C.P. Joshi, Rahul Gandhi sees the future leadership of Rajasthan and the trust level is high with him, a factor in any key economic ministry.
But what has caused dismay in some sections of the party is that these leaders could have been kept afloat in the power zone without such challenging assignments.
The general election is almost four years away and this was the time for Sonia to strengthen the delivery mechanism and in the process develop new leadership, one senior leader told The Telegraph, explaining how networking and personal loyalties play bigger roles in ministry-making than political vision or merit.
Some sources said the Prime Minister was bound to feel disappointed and constrained if he was not permitted to choose his core team.
This would affect the understanding between the two which has been very good so far. But the Prime Minister should have a say in vital decisions relating to governance. He does not interfere with party matters at all, said a party MP who admitted that majority of leaders felt the reshuffle could have been better. Other leaders, too, felt that more of the Prime Ministers space had been encroached upon.
Some leaders referred to the talent deficit in the party, asking who could have been better replacements had the so-called non-performing ministers been removed.
Administration is a serious business and cannot be left to greenhorns, a cabinet minister said, confronting suggestions that the Rahul brigade should have been aggressively promoted. These are difficult times and you dont aggravate the crisis by dropping veterans. Soniaji has cautioned everybody, downgraded some and given them one more opportunity. This shows her maturity, he added.
But there are many in the party who believe the reference to talent deficit is an excuse to hide the inability to nurture new leadership. If you dont groom new leaders now, what will happen after two-three years? Are we here to prepare Rahuls team or sustain Narasimha Raos team? asked a young leader.
He recalled that Rajiv Gandhi picked leaders in their late thirties, from Ahmed Patel to Digvijay Singh, instead of relying solely on Indira Gandhis team.
Ordinary party workers were also groping in the dark for the larger message from the shuffle. Some wondered if Ahmed Patel had put all his trusted men in key positions, others talked of Sonias timidity and predicted a worse shuffle in the party.
One Delhi leader loosely summed it up: Kucch nikla nahin, wohin ke wohin rahe (Nothing came out of it, we are stuck where we were).