Exercise belies people's hope for probity

Exercise belies people's hope for probity

Cabinet reshuffle: Promotion of beleaguered Salman Khurshid raises eyebrows

Exercise belies people's hope for probity

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was quick to describe the implicit message of Sunday’s Cabinet expansion as “a combination of youth, experience and relevance of portfolios.”

But, the mammoth exercise ever undertaken by the prime minister in the two successive United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regimes has fallen short of an image makeover or addressing the public perception of probity, which includes dropping ministers facing serious corruption charges.

Salman Khurshid, whose NGO is facing high octane charges of financial misappropriation, was the biggest beneficiary of the trust the prime minister and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi bestowed on him by making him the external affairs minister. The surprising decision came at a time when the Uttar Pradesh government, run by UPA ally Samajwadi Party, is still to submit its report on the allegations made against Khurshid.

The other extreme was divesting Jaipal Reddy of the petroleum portfolio though he has been able to display grit and decisiveness against the oil corporate lobby that has been known for years to fix cabinet berths of its choice. Reddy has been made science and technology minister.

The ministers involved in scandals facing the UPA, including the coalgate scam, have not been shunted out. For instance, Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal remains in his slot despite the CBI investigating the allocation of blocks to private players which notionally cost the exchequer Rs 1.86 lakh crore. 

The only exception was that of Subodh Kant Sahai, the tourism minister who, along with five other colleagues, quit on Saturday to take up party work. Sahai’s name was dragged into the coalgate scam as he allegedly lobbied for a private firm linked to his brother to get a “coal block.”

What comes out very clearly from the Cabinet reshuffle — which seems to have used combinations to placate politicians, fill vacancies, address poll-bound regions and expose youth to bigger challenges — is that the Congress is willing to brazen out corruption charges levelled against the government.

The UPA could have axed tainted ministers in Sunday’s huge facelift attempt, a political observer remarked.

BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman described the rejig as a “desperate move” and said “no major decision was taken and no corrupt minister dropped.”

Anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal, who had earlier this month produced documents of alleged financial bungling by a trust run by Khurshid and his wife, said “corrupt people are not only protected but also rewarded.”

The UPA government had forced its DMK ministers A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran to step down after their names figured in the telecom scandals.

Shashi Tharoor is now Minister of State in the Human Resources Department. Tharoor was forced to resign in 2010 as minister of state for external affairs after allegations of a conflict of interest in promoting an IPL team for Kochi that was linked to Sunanda Pushkar, the woman he married after quitting office.

Simlarly, K Rehman Khan,  indicted by the Karnataka State Minorities Commission in a Waqf Board scam, was on Sunday made cabinet minister for minority affairs.

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