| A policeman before a statue of Mahatma Gandhi on his 58th death anniversary in Amritsar. (AFP)
New Delhi, Jan. 30: Ask who had the bigger say in the cabinet revamp, Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi, and Congress sources at once trot out a slew of theories.
But if the mood today at the party headquarters was any indication, Sonia and her close “advisers” played a key role.
In true Congress fashion, the new ministers lined up to pay obeisance to party elders, notably general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi and treasurer Motilal Vora. Sonia’s political secretary, Ahmed Patel, rarely visits the office, preferring to hold his “durbar” at home.
The various ports of call of the shuffle’s beneficiaries included the Prime Minister’s office and residence, Patel’s home and the Congress office.
Today being the Mahatma’s death anniversary, a portrait had been placed on a table in the portico leading to the offices of Sonia and other key party functionaries. The ministers barely stopped to toss a fistful of petals at it, as if in reflex action, before walking off to attend to more important business.
Armed with sweets and bouquets, they sought out those who counted for their “blessings”. The callers included Ambika Soni, M.M. Pallam Raju, Akhilesh Das and T. Subbirami Reddy.
Till a day ago, it was Ambika’s room that would be the hub of party activity, thanks to the clout she enjoyed as general secretary and chairperson of the party’s media cell. As though by instinct, the crowds gathered outside her room today, too, before realising with a shock that their “neta” had moved base to Shastri Bhavan.
The fulcrum of power had shifted to Dwivedi and Vora. Dwivedi, who writes speeches for Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, is expected to head the media cell.
Inside Vora’s cubbyhole, a somewhat dispirited Ambika, still nursing a sore throat, told reporters that though she had taken charge of tourism, her “mind and heart” were with the All India Congress Committee. “(But) I guess it was time to move out and experience something new.”
In walked law and justice minister Hans Raj Bhardwaj, who has managed to hold on to his portfolio despite the Quattrocchi de-freeze controversy. He had come to thank Vora for “saving” his job. Sighting reporters, he took off on how the media had “targeted” him “without the relevant facts and figures”.
Bhardwaj may have saved his bacon for now, but his party had many questions to answer on the cabinet expansion.
Its spokesperson, Jayanthi Natarajan, claimed that the Prime Minister’s new team “reflects a combination of experience, talent, fresh initiative and youth representing all the regions of India”.
So what or whom do Murli Deora, Subbirami Reddy and Ashwini Kumar represent' Her answer was: “They are veteran members and I’m sure their skills and talent will be useful in the council of ministers.”
Expressing “discomfiture” at their inclusion, Congress sources nevertheless suggested that since Deora had headed Mumbai Congress for some 25 years, he “deserved” something more.
But they conceded the “theory” that he got petroleum and natural gas because of his alleged closeness to a controversial business house could hand the Opposition ammunition against the government.
Reddy, a film producer, was known to throw flashy parties to which filmstars were invited. Though he hadn’t hosted any after Sonia’s recent austerity sermons, he is surely the opposite of the aam admi (common man).
Reddy today got mines while Jairam Ramesh and Dinshaw Patel, the two other ministers of state left without portfolio yesterday, were given commerce and petroleum, respectively.