You may still call it UPA-2, but for all practical purposes yesterday's cabinet reshuffle has reduced the central ministry to a Congress government. This is perhaps the most significant development to emerge from the exercise, which did not send major signals on governance, or youth or anything else.
The reshuffle - presumably the last one before the next general election - presents a unique situation where a “minority” Manmohan Singh government now controls all major ministries, and can no longer blame anything that goes wrong on allies or the “compulsions of coalition politics”.
Sample the facts. Of the 22 ministers sworn in on Sunday, 21 were from the Congress. It would have been a completely Congress affair, but for the predestined exclusion of young Agatha Sangma - who was chucked out for the unforgivable sin of backing her own father, PA Sangma, for the presidency. She has been replaced by the NCP by Tariq Anwar as a junior minister in party boss Sharad Pawar's Agriculture Ministry.
Following the reshuffle, the strength of the Congress in the 80-member Council of Ministers (including the PM) has gone up to 69. The exit of seven Trinamool Congress ministers and two DMK Ministers from the government has thus enabled the Congress to make UPA-2 a virtual Congress ministry.
This has come about because the DMK declined to fill up two vacancies created by the resignations of A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran in the wake of 2G spectrum scam. The DMK is worried that it will have to bear the burden of the UPA-'s growing anti-incumbency.
Of a total of 33 cabinet ministers, 28 are from the Congress. Of the five ministers from alliance partners, DMK’s MK Alagiri, Fertilisers and Chemicals Minister, is best known for his absenteeism; the National Conference's Farooq Abdullah has a lightweight ministry in new and renewable energy. A late entrant in the government, RLD leader Ajit Singh, has something more high-profile, civil aviation, but the sector is seriously troubled. Singh got it after the Congress decided to tie up with him for the UP polls, and shifted Vayalar Ravi to mind overseas Indian affairs. Ravi himself came to civil aviation briefly after NCP leader Praful Patel was shifted from there.
It is only NCP chief Sharad Pawar who has an important portfolio in UPA-2.
The return of railways to the Congress after a gap of 17 years sends the ultimate signal that the Grand Old Party now controls all critical infrastructure and economic ministries. The new minister, Pawan Bansal, has indicated that fare increases are not ruled out.
The ministries of strategic importance, – home, finance, defence and external affairs - had, of course, always been with the Congress.
With effectively only one year of governance left (by the end of next year the government will be in election mode even if polls are held as scheduled in 2014). The Congress will thus have to reverse or minimise adverse popular perceptions during this time.
All the 12 ministers of state with independent charge are also from the Congress. Of them two, Manish Tiwari and K Chiranjeevi, were put in this rank yesterday, and five more - Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Bharatsinh Solanki, Jitendra Singh and KH Munniyapa - were promoted.
In the rank of ministers of state, the Congress has 27 ministers out of a total of 33 positions. The remaining six include four from the DMK (SS Palanimanickam, D Napoleon, S Jagathrakshakan and S Gandhiselvan), one from the NCP (with Tariq Anwar replacing Agatha Sangma) and one from the Indian Union Muslim League (E Ahamed).
Ironic as it would appear, there is not a single Cabinet minister from eastern India - West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and the north-east. They new inductions are all in the minister of state category.
Until recently, the UPA had three ministers from the east, Pranab Mukherjee, Mukul Roy and Subodh Kant Sahai. Odisha Congress leader Srikant Jena, despite his seniority and sulk, has not been elevated from the position of minister of state (independent charge) in the unsung ministry of statistics and programme implementation. The low priority given to eastern India perhaps indicates the Congress' lack of strength in most of these states even though 142 MPs are elected from this region. In Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand, the Congress is seen as a bit player.
The surprise changes this time include Ashwini Kumar, who was made Law Minster, and the shifting of Petroleum Minister Jaipal Reddy to Science, Technology and Earth Sciences ministry.