Youth brigade gets mixed hand, Jaipal shunted from oil

Salman Khurshid and Pawan Kumar Bansal emerged as the two big winners from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s revamp of his Council of Ministers on Sunday.

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Mr. Khurshid, the new External Affairs Minister, is now in the charmed circle, entering the key Cabinet Committee on Security and becoming a part of the big four in the government, along with those who hold the Finance, Home and Defence portfolios. Mr. Bansal, the first Congress Railway Minister in 17 years (if one omits C.P. Joshi’s one month), will now preside over the reforms the lifeline of the economy is crying out for.

But Sunday’s reshuffle also saw a significant loser: S. Jaipal Reddy’s move from Petroleum and Natural Gas to Science and Technology is being read by his friends as a punishment for his standing up to a major industrial house; by his detractors as his just deserts for holding up decision-making.

Facelift

In his attempt to give his government a facelift — “hopefully, probably … the last reshuffle” in the run-up to 2014 as the Prime Minister described it — he sent out four key messages: one, he was willing to give major responsibilities to younger ministers; two, he was keen on moving reforms forward; three, he sent a positive signal to Andhra Pradesh, inducting five ministers and elevating a sixth to the Cabinet to counter the negative impact of Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy’s growing influence and the Telangana movement on the Congress base in the State. And, four, by appointing a Muslim foreign minister, he underscored India’s essential plurality. Asked about his objective in the changes made, the Prime Minister said he had tried to put together “a combination of youth, experience and relevance of portfolios.”

North-east, east draw a blank in Cabinet

But there was a key omission: for the first time in perhaps decades, there was not a single face in the Cabinet from the north-eastern States and West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh, though these States have voted in 29 Congress MPs.

Of the fresh faces, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Minister Ajay Maken is 48; Human Resource Development Minister M.M. Pallam Raju is 50. Similarly, four of the new Ministers of State given independent charge of key portfolios are young: Jyotiraditya Scindia, 41; Manish Tewari, 47; Sachin Pilot, 35; and Jitendra Singh, 41 — they hold Power, Information and Broadcasting, Corporate Affairs and Sports and Youth Affairs respectively.

Reforms agenda

The Prime Minister’s choice of new ministers for key economic portfolios, a senior official said, points to a determination to see the reforms agenda move forward. With the Railways back with the Congress, Mr. Bansal is seen as the right man to make it once again “the engine for economic growth.” For Mr. Scindia, a key challenge will be to implement a recent Cabinet decision — persuade the State governments to adopt the new restructuring formula before the State Electricity Boards’ debts are written off. Mr. Pilot will have to push through the Companies Bill in the coming session of Parliament to bring in the much-needed reforms in the corporate sector.

All eyes on Moily

There have been significant changes in the Cabinet too: all eyes will be on M. Veerappa Moily, who has been shifted from Power and Corporate Affairs to Petroleum and Natural Gas, to detect changes in style and substance.

Kamal Nath, who has got Parliamentary Affairs in addition to Urban Development, will be on test: will he be able to use his considerable people skills to get Parliament to function and key laws passed? Kumari Selja, who moves to Social Justice and Empowerment, will now get the chance to get her teeth into an area she deeply cares for.

Of the 22 who took the oath the Rashtrapati Bhavan’s spectacular Ashoka Hall, there were 17 fresh faces, including two in the Cabinet, K. Rahman Khan (Minority Affairs) and Chandresh Kumari Katoch (Culture). Ms. Katoch’s appointment is a two-in-one — she is currently an MP from Rajasthan (she is the sister of the Maharaja of Jodhpur), but has done most of her politics in Himachal Pradesh, which will go to the polls soon. Five Ministers of State were also promoted Cabinet Ministers — Dinsha J. Patel, Ajay Maken, M.M. Pallam Raju, Ashwani Kumar and Harish Rawat. Mr. Patel has been elevated with the forthcoming Gujarat Assembly elections in mind, as has been Bharatsinh Madhavsinh Solanki’s promotion as Minister of State with independent charge of Drinking Water and Sanitation.

Tharoor back

Shashi Tharoor, who was forced to leave the government under a cloud of controversy in 2010, is back as Minister of State in the Human Resource Development Ministry. Another entrant from Kerala is K. Suresh, a five-time MP who heads the SC/ST forum in Parliament.

From Andhra Pradesh, the five fresh Ministers of State are K. Chiranjeevi (independent charge of Tourism), K. Surya Prakash Reddy, S. Sathyanarayana, Balram Naik and Kruparani Killi. West Bengal has got three new Ministers of State: A.H. Khan Choudhury, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and Deepa Dasmunsi — the last two are seen as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s most vigorous critics.

From the north-east, there are two Ministers of State — Ranee Narah from Assam and Ninong Ering from Arunachal Pradesh; and one from Rajasthan, Lalchand Kataria. The only ally to figure in the expansion is Tariq Anwar from the Nationalist Congress Party, who will be Minister of State in the Agriculture and Food Processing Ministries.

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