In a minor expansion of his Council of Ministers on Wednesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh introduced three new faces, upgraded five Ministers and shuffled the rest of the pack. The top four jobs — Finance, Home, External Affairs and Defence — were left untouched, and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham and the Trinamool Congress were left out of the exercise.
Salman Khursheed, Sriprakash Jaiswal and Praful Patel — the last named from the Nationalist Congress Party — were elevated to the Cabinet, while Ministers of State Ajay Maken and K.V. Thomas were given independent charge. The three new faces are Beni Prasad Verma, now MoS with independent charge, Ashwani Kumar and K.C. Venugopal, both inducted as Ministers of State.
The most significant change was Urban Development Minister S. Jaipal Reddy being moved to the high profile Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry, and Petroleum Minister Murli Deora being shifted to the relatively low key Corporate Affairs Ministry.
If that, along with the DMK not getting a replacement for the former Telecom Minister, A. Raja, was intended, government sources told The Hindu, to send out a message in this season of scams and rising inflation overall, Wednesday's changes looked unlikely to address the credibility deficit, with not one Minister dropped. The best the leadership achieved was to send out a signal by moving some non-performers to Ministries of lesser consequence, and the only clear message went out to election-bound Kerala and Uttar Pradesh, with the representation from these two States increasing substantially.
However, the Prime Minister told journalists, after the swearing-in at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, that this was “a minor reshuffle” and that he intended to “do a more expansive exercise” after the budget session of Parliament. By then elections in Kerala, Assam, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal will be over, and equations with two allies, the DMK and the TMC, could change, there could be food price stability, as the Prime Minister promised on Wednesday, the scam enquiries could be over.
If Agriculture Minister and NCP leader Sharad Pawar saw his wish fulfilled — or had his wings clipped, depending on one's perspective — with Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs taken away from him and replaced with Food Processing, Kamal Nath, Virbhadra Singh, Murli Deora, B.K. Handique and M.S. Gill were all seen to be ‘downgraded.' On the other hand, the fortunes of Jaipal Reddy, Kapil Sibal, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Vayalar Ravi, Selja, C.P. Joshi and V. Narayanswamy continued to shine.