Don’t expect anything dramatic from the Union Cabinet reshuffle, if at all it happens on Sunday. If Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi joins the cabinet, it would cause some flutter in the political circles. Otherwise it would be mostly a cosmetic exercise with fresh faces replacing the old ones, bringing no special expectation to their new roles. The government which is just about surviving cannot throw up surprises.
However, the UPA government, particularly the Congress, would try to make the reshuffle an image-salvaging effort. This would require dumping unpopular faces and inducting new ones, particularly a few of the younger lot who have been around for sometime now. If the government is serious about making some impression on young voters it would make space for the likes of Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Milind Deora. The Congress has a problem of lack of media savvy ministers in its ranks. The younger ones would fit the bill.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will also try to get rid of non-performing or under-performing ministers besides the ones linked to the recent spate of scandals by acts of omission and commission. Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahay, Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma and External Affairs Minister SM Krishna. The first two are linked to the coal allocation scandal and Krishna has been indicted by a Lokayukta report in the Mysore-Bangalore Express Highway scandal. Verma has been one of the non-performers.
Krishna has already put in his papers in anticipation of being dropped in reshuffle. Senior ministers Ambika Soni and Mukul Wasnik have followed suit, expressing intent to work for the organisation. This makes the task of the prime minister easier. He gets enough leeway to experiment with a new-look team. This, for all practical purposes, would be the last possible reshuffle before the elections of 2014. Singh would like to present a more energetic team to the people of the country to inspire confidence in them in the government.
Rahul Gandhi joining the ministry does not make a qualitative difference to the government but his party would like him to have some hands on experience to make his claim for the prime minister’s job — whenever the opportunity arrives — more secure and less controversial. But media reports suggest that he is more keen on handling the organisation and focussing on the revival of the party. He is likely to be made working president of the party.
The party is acutely aware of the need of a leader to head and give direction to the organisation, which has virtually collapsed across the country. Sonia Gandhi has provided stability at the top but has not been too effective at the galvanising grassroots workers. Rahul, despite his electoral failures in many states, is seen as the leader who could communicate easily with people and build rapport with them. He could be the face the party can go to people with. He will be made the rallying point in the party’s revival.
The Congress is not thinking too much about the UPA at the moment. It will get the allies if it has enough numbers in the parliamentary polls. It is more keen on rebuilding the party from the scratch. It is aware of the fact that if the current slide in the state of the organisation continues it would cease to be a political force. The shifting of senior leaders from the ministry to the organisation would be an important move. The Congress leadership would be mindful of that while planning the reshuffle.
Image and organisation thus are the twin primary focuses of the party at the moment. Also, it needs to think long term. It has virtually given up on winning the elections of 2014, but for a scenario beyond that it needs to groom a fresh batch of leaders. This reshuffle could mark the beginning of that process.