Cabinet reshuffle: Congress chooses tokenism over efficiency

22 new ministers sworn in, 10 promotions and 17 new faces has been the highlight of fifth and possibly last reshuffle of ministers by the Manmohan Singh government. But in the end it appeared to be aimed at satisfying to the regional aspirations, like in case of Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, and sending a signal through tokenism to the Muslim community, rather than making it a performance oriented exercise. The fact that the scheduled next general elections is around 16 months away, the rejig plan had to weigh more on political balance than administrative efficiency.

There was  a slight setback for the Congress leadership though. An ally, the DMK, which had not been feeling very comfortable with its UPA ally lately chose to stay out of the reshuffle, despite two cabinet berths were earmarked for it.

If symbolism has a meaning in politics, then the Congress has sought to send out a message to the Muslim community. For the first time the country will have a Muslim face, Salman Khurshid as the External Affairs Minister in that crucial ministry.

This also signifies that the Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took the risk of not being guided by the charges of taint, but by his usefulness and personal loyalty to the Gandhi family.

Can UPA's A-team revive its fortunes? PTI

Shahshi Tharoor’s return to the Council of Ministers is another pointer in this regard.

“The leadership takes a decision in national interest out of its own wisdom. It can’t be guided by what some one might be saying outside, if it starts acting on that basis it would risk become a puppet at their hands,” Khurshid said. There is a clear message for the likes of Arvind Kejriwal that the Congress no longer cares for their exposes and agitations.

Along with Khurshid’s swift movement up the ladder, K Rehman Khan, a senior party leader from Karnataka, had the privilege of being sworn in first out of seven Cabinet ministers who took oath today. Abu Hasan Khan Chowdhary from West Bengal got a berth as minister of state.

The states where the Congress had obtained large numbers in last parliamentary polls, but is on a slippery slope now have been given importance in this reshuffle. Andhra Pradesh, where the Congress has been fast losing grounds to rebel rival Jaganmohan Reddy, has been given six ministers including two from Telagana and elevation of MM Pallam Raju to the Cabinet rank with charge of important Human Resource Development Ministry.

The West Bengal Congress, which after departure of ally, Trinamool Congress is finding it difficult to guard its turf has got ministers of state Adhir Ranjan Chwodhary, Deepa Dasmunshi and Abu Hasan Khan Chowdhary. All three are known baiters of West Bengal chief minister Mamta Banerjee. Dasmunshi got the portfolio of a junior minister in the railway ministry, in what may be seen as a sign to the West Bengal Chief minister.

The induction of Chowdhary, a known Muslim face, is significant particularly as it comes after President Pranab Mukherjee’s son only managed to scrape through the election in Jangipur with a slender margin of around 2500 votes.
However, the Congress’s problems in West Bengal may not be over as the ministers of state have virtually no say in running of ministries. The state earlier had two powerful ministers, Pranab Mukherjee and Mamta Banerjee in the cabinet. The expectations from the state obviously would be much more.

Rajasthan is another state in this category. Two leaders from the state saw elevation in ranks and two more joined the council of ministers including a member of erstwhile royalty, Chandresh Kumari Katoch.

After Subodh Kant Sahai’s resignation from the Cabinet, there has been no representation from Jharkhand in the government. Bihar too has no minister in the government.

Apart from infusing some fresh look and feel in the Union cabinet, the elevation of five ministers from the younger lot: Ajay Maken to Cabinet rank; Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Jitendra Singh and Bharatsinh Solanki as Ministers of State (Independent Charge) is aimed at projecting an alternate set of leaders in their respective states of Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

With a youthful Scindia at the helm in power ministry and Pilot in the corporate affairs ministry, the industry can look forward to some business friendly administrative reforms.

The shifting of S Jaipal Reddy from petroleum to Science and Technology is noteworthy. It amounts to a demotion for the socialist turned Congress leader. M Veerapa Moily who had been shifting places from law to corporate affairs to power, has been given the petroleum ministry. Its difficult to say if this has been a performance oriented change for Reddy or some political considerations have been at play.

While the Congress has regained the railway ministry after a decade and half, it chose to hand over reigns to a low key Pawan Kumar Bansal. It would be interesting to how he gels with the ministry.

Ahead of winter session when the government will face opposition heat on issues like Coalgate, FDI in retail, Robert Vadra's business deals and other issues, Kamal Nath has been entrusted the task of keeping the numbers of a minority Manmohan Singh government afloat.

The over hyped youthful stamp of Rahul Gandhi may come later when the organisational overhaul takes places with him being formally anointed as Number Two in the Congress party.