A day after the much-anticipated changes in the Union Council of Ministers, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accepted the resignation of Gurudas Kamat and forwarded it to the President. Mr. Kamat, who was elevated from an MoS to MoS with independent charge of Drinking Water and Sanitation, put in his papers, saying he would prefer to work in the party organisation.
Of the three others unhappy — Union Ministers M. Veerappa Moily and Vilasrao Deshmukh and MoS with independent charge Srikant Jena — Mr Moily, after expressing his unhappiness at being moved from Law and Justice to Corporate Affairs, took charge of his new portfolio on Wednesday, setting out his priorities in his office in the Shastri Bhawan. After initially blaming “vested interests” for the change in his portfolio, he said he was “very happy” with the party leadership for entrusting him with the new job.
Mr. Jena, who, like Mr. Kamat, was upset at not being promoted to the Cabinet rank (Mr Jena was Cabinet Minister for Parliamentary Affairs in the H.D. Deve Gowda government), chose to discuss his new responsibilities in the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation with his Secretary and other officials. “They came to my residence and briefed me on the working of my new Ministry today [Wednesday],” Mr Jena said. ”I will be going to Orissa tomorrow to attend Rahulji's programme there.” (Party general secretary Rahul Gandhi is on a tour of tribal and coastal Orissa.)
Mr. Jena said he would attend his new office in the Sardar Patel Bhawan only next week.
Mr. Deshmukh, who was moved from Rural Development and Panchayati Raj to Science and Technology and Earth sciences, will take charge next week. He is in Mumbai to lobby for the post of president of the Mumbai Cricket Association. While Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is reportedly backing Mr. Deshmukh, his rival, the former India captain, Dilip Vengsarkar, has the support of the Shiv Sena, giving the contest political overtones.
Meanwhile, a cautious Congress downplayed Mr. Kamat's defiance and Mr Moily's initial outburst. “These things should not have happened,” Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi told journalists when asked to comment on their unhappiness. On Mr. Kamat's resignation, he said it was a matter between the government and the person concerned.
Mr. Singhvi stressed that the Prime Minister had not categorically ruled out any further change in the Council of Ministers, pointing out that he had only expressed the hope that Tuesday's reshuffle would be the last such major exercise before the polls.
The mood in the Congress was mixed: there was relief that the exercise was over and that the average age of the Ministers had come down, but there was also a sense that more could have been done, especially in the election-bound Punjab and Uttarakhand.
Punjab, a party functionary pointed out, lost M.S. Gill, who was dropped from the Cabinet, but there was no replacement. He stressed that it would be useful to include a Dalit Minister from Punjab, as the ruling Akali Dal was planning to tie up with the Bahujan Samaj Party in the State with a substantial Dalit population.
It was felt that in Uttarakhand, Harish Rawat could have been either appointed PCC chief or given an elevation to send a message to that State.
Simultaneously, it is learnt, though the Congress president appointed a new general secretary, Vilas Muttemwar, on Tuesday, the existing incumbents may not be touched. There may be a minor change of portfolios as it is felt that the party organisation needs to be strengthened.
As for Arun Yadav, who was dropped from the Union Council of Ministers and drafted into the party organisation as secretary, he could be attached to Mr. Gandhi, in the run-up to the elections in Uttar Pradesh.