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SINGH’S CHOIR

Good governance is based on experience and competence. Youth might hold out promise but this by itself may not be enough to deliver good governance. The prime minister of India, wise as he is, wanted to emphasize this point in the long-awaited cabinet reshuffle that took place on Sunday morning. This, barring the unforeseen, is the last revamping of the prime minister’s team before the United Progressive Alliance goes to the people to seek their verdict on its performance. The reshuffle of the cabinet had become inevitable once Pranab Mukherjee was elevated to the position of head of the Indian republic. There was widespread speculation that the reshuffle would result in the induction of new and young faces to spruce up the government. This did not happen to the extent that some people expected. There are some new faces and some young and capable ministers have been given more and independent responsibilities. But this has not happened at the expense of dispensing completely with the old. Manmohan Singh, as he is wont to do, played a balanced hand. S.M. Krishna, the former minister of external affairs, was made to depart not because of his age but because of his incompetence. He has been replaced by Salman Khurshid, who is known for his urbanity and sophistication. Foreign affairs is not an unknown ministry for Mr Khurshid; he worked there with some distinction when he was minister of state under P.V. Narasimha Rao. Indian foreign policy could, with Mr Khurshid at the helm of affairs, acquire the aura of statesmanship. This is certainly the most important change that the prime minister has introduced and it is a welcome one.

Through the reshuffle, the prime minister has sought to highlight two aspects. One, a premium has been put on performance. Mr Singh knows that the nature of governance is going to be critical in the next general elections, whenever they are held, on schedule or early. This is the last opportunity he has to tell his critics and the country that he means to govern. The other message is clear: the prime minister is not going to allow a muck-raking rabble-rouser to dictate who should be chosen to govern the country. Allegations of corruption made on the streets to gain the limelight are of no consequence in the choice of ministers. Giving Mr Khurshid the foreign ministry and the recall of Shashi Tharoor are both, in different ways, indicators of what the prime minister thinks of wild allegations. Mr Singh has with him a new team and before him the challenge to provide good governance.