Tame affair

If the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was expected to emerge more youthful and purposeful from Sunday’s expansion-cum-reshuffle of the Manmohan Singh ministry, such expectations were largely belied.

Prime Minister Singh, it seemed, had little space to manoeuvre and use the reshuffle to regain his government’s credibility. The exercise was the biggest since the formation of the second UPA government in the summer of 2009 and it provided a big opportunity for the prime minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi to take some bold decisions to rebuild the dented image of the government.

But by the time the last of the 22 new ministers inducted was administered the oath of office by President Pranab Mukherjee early Sunday afternoon, what unfolded was a repeat of familiar Congress stories about ministry reshuffles.

The entire exercise turned out to be about giving regional, caste and community representations to regain/reinforce vote banks. Consider this: Andhra Pradesh now has 11 ministers – five freshly inducted - in the 78-member Manmohan ministry. Will this unusually large representation help the Congress to avert an electoral debacle in the state in the next Lok Sabha elections?

It is highly doubtful if the party will be able to revive its fortunes in Andhra without effectively addressing the prolonged crisis of leadership in the state since Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s sudden demise two years’ ago. Worse still, there is no clarity yet about the party’s stand on the Telangana statehood demand.

The party inducted three from West Bengal, where the Congress lost its Trinamool Congress ally last month. Barring a few like Shashi Tharoor and Manish Tewari, most of those inducted may not bring with them the competencies the prime minister needs to fight his government’s credibility crisis.

While the exercise enabled Singh to allocate the additional portfolios held by some of his senior ministers to new entrants, what has baffled is his decision to divest Jaipal Reddy of the petroleum and natural gas portfolio. Why? Reddy is perhaps the fourth minister to lose the portfolio in the over eight years’ of UPA dispensation.

The likes of S M Krishna and Ambika Soni must be wondering after the reshuffle why they had to leave the government. Salman Khurshid, who made news for all the wrong reasons of late, was lucky to have got the external affairs portfolio, though he has always been considered to be a rightful contender for the job. In the exercise, however, youngsters like Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot and Milind Deora got some freedom to make their marks in the government.

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