New Delhi, October 28 : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shuffled his cabinet like a pack of cards on Sunday. This reshuffle of the cabinet is being interpreted in many ways. For some, it’s a facelift for the government with more younger ministers, others think of it as an indication of ‘power shift’ within the Congress party, still other are busy gauging how regional balance is flaunted in this exercise. But, the most important thing is that Rahul Gandhi has again shied away from taking any responsibility in the government. Time only will decide whether he proves to be the trump card that is being saved from the shuffle now is just a joker.
This ‘facelift’ of the cabinet, bringing in ‘younger’ ministers in a bid to breathe new life into aged, scandal-tainted government, was on the cards for six months. This probably was Manmohan's last chance to significantly change the direction of the government to put it on track and woo voters for a third consecutive term for Congress in 2014.
In this reshuffle, Manmohan rejigged about a third of his 30-member cabinet, and reshuffled a number of key portfolios, including, oil, foreign policy, railways and justice. He also brought in a raft of new, younger state ministers who will not have cabinet-level posts. Despite the reshuffle, relatively few senior ministers in the cabinet led by 80-year-old Singh are under 65.
It is being said that the UPA has tried to set the new agenda: downplay the noise from 2G scam, the coal-gate and the Vadra scam. Salman Khurshid, the minister in the centre of the controversy over corruption in a family-run NGO, has been elevated to the distinguished post of Union minister for external affairs, thus giving a Congress-style response to the anti-graft movement of India Against Corruption. The promotion of Khurshid, suggests that the Congress doesn't think the corruption will be the prime issue in its future fight against the opposition anti-Congress parties.
This shuffle has also underlined that the Congress is absolutely not in mood to pamper its allies anymore. That is the reason why leaders like Sharad Pawar, the oldest ally in UPA and Mayawati, the latest entrant in UPA did not attend the swaring in ceremony. The new cabinet has predominantly urban face. Jaypal Reddy’s exit is a clear indication that Manmohan wants a corporate friendly face. The ‘Aam Aadami’, in whose name UPAII came to power, seems not to be of any relevance now.
Manmohan's elderly cabinet was seen as increasingly out of touch with the country's youthful electorate. Corruption scandals have damaged the government's image over the last two years, and at times ministers seem more focussed on fighting accusations of graft than running their portfolios. So, it was said that the reshuffle was necessary for the government. But, it doesn’t seem to have served the purpose. The now cabinet is far removed from the ‘Aam Aadami’ as it comprises primarily of people from the upper house of the parliament or those who never have faced people in real sense.
Singh's shaky coalition had been paralysed by infighting and policy drift for much of its second term, struggling to drive through major economic reforms long demanded by investors and business leaders even as economic growth has sharply slowed. "The road ahead is full of challenges. But this is a team, which I hope will be able to meet those challenges," Singh said, according to a Tweet by his office.
Notably absent from the new names was Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty who is expected to be the party's candidate for prime minister in the 2014 election. Singh said after a swearing-in ceremony that he had wanted Gandhi in the cabinet but that the Congress party general-secretary wanted to work for the party. Several of the new state ministers, however, are closely linked to the 42-year-old Gandhi, which could extend his influence in the council of ministers without directly exposing him to potential damage if the government's popularity fails to pick up. So, ultimately people of India only will decide whether those left out of Sunday’s shuffle are trumps or just jokers.