Political compulsions rein in Cabinet revamp

Political compulsions rein in Cabinet revamp

Manmohan lacks mandate to carry out full-scale rejig

By saying that he would go for an expansive reshuffle in January when he carried out a lacklustre revamp, the expectations were high in political circles. Thus, by any standard, it was a moderate exercise, which was in a way, left hanging. Understandably, the prime minister has disappointed many.

Despite rewarding performers like Jairam Ramesh, who has been elevated to Cabinet rank, the PM has stopped short of carrying out large scale expansion. Thus the top four ministers – manning home, defence, finance and external affairs – remain unchanged while non-performers like Vilas Rao Deshmukh, Sushil Shinde etc continue in the government. Deshmukh, though, has been sort of downgraded as he was shifted from rural development to science and technology.

The examples of Deshmukh and Shinde and giving additional charges to several ministers such as Kapil Sibal, Pawan Bansal, Vayalar Ravi, Anand Sharma exposed the talent-deficit in the UPA.

The PM, badgered by a string of scams, showed his confidence by announcing the list of ministers to be sworn in and the shuffle of portfolios on Tuesday morning itself but still, it was also clear that he did not have the political mandate to carry out a full-scale reshuffle.

The Tuesday exercise stands out, if at all, for two changes: elevating Jairam Ramesh even as easing him out of the environment and forests ministry and bringing in Salman Khursheed for M Veerappa Moily.

There is no denying that Ramesh had taken on the corporate lobbies and refused to clear several mining projects, made go, no-go areas although in some cases he had to abide by the directives of the prime minister and give green signal to some of them. Jayanthi Natarajan will be keenly watched by green warriors.  Says environmentalist Sunita Narain: “Ramesh took the ministry out of the morass and gave it a new profile.”

The other important change has been effected in the law ministry. A string of setbacks to the government in several cases relating to scams capped by the resignation of solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam led to shifting of Moily to the relatively low key corporate affairs.

The Moily-inspired Judges Accountability and Standards Bill suffered a setback when it was introduced in Parliament for the first time as Congress members had opposed it.
Moily did make the ministry dynamic by bringing in several changes like getting the government to agree to spend Rs 21,000 crore on projects favouring the law ministry and getting lakhs of undertrials freed.

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