Rahul can step into my shoes, says Manmohan

June 17, 2013 08:13 pm | Updated November 27, 2021 06:53 pm IST - New Delhi

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Chairman, Rajya Sabha and Vice-President Hamid Ansari after taking oath as member of Rajya Sabha in New Delhi on Monday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Chairman, Rajya Sabha and Vice-President Hamid Ansari after taking oath as member of Rajya Sabha in New Delhi on Monday.

Experience trumped youth in the UPA’s choice of new entrants into the Union Council of Ministers, with six of the eight born before independence, one, a month after, and the youngest in 1953. Indeed, there did not appear to be any imprint of party vice president Rahul Gandhi in the choice of new faces at Monday’s swearing-in ceremony.

If there was a message, it came from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself who expressed confidence in the UPA getting “a third go”. Speaking to journalists at Rashtrapati Bhawan after the swearing in ceremony, he stressed that the people would “again repose their faith” in the alliance. Neither Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, nor the nascent Federal Front, the Prime Minister — responding to questions — said, posed a “threat” or “challenge” to the UPA.

In Rahul Gandhi, the Congress had a “natural leader” who, he hoped, would lead the UPA alliance to the next elections. Asked if he would be willing to step aside for Mr. Gandhi, if the UPA returned to power, he said, “I will be very happy to see Rahul step into my shoes… I have always believed Rahul is fit enough to be a leader of the UPA - that is not a question of any speculation.”

Pressed on the Modi factor, the Prime Minister said, “Modi is no threat to us… The people of India have to draw their own conclusions, what Narendra Modi stands for, and what his elevation means.”

Responding to questions on Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, he said, “In politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies -- the situation evolves…he (Nitish Kumar) is a secular leader.” He, however, refused to “speculate” on the possibility of the Congress having an alliance with the JD(U), even as he said that he would “like all secular minded persons and parties to work together to give this country a clean, secular government”.

The PM was clearly in election mode. Indeed, even though his new ministers are not young, the selection did send out a few political signals: with two additions, the troubled state of Andhra Pradesh that gave the Congress 33 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 now has 13 ministers, of whom only three are from the Telangana region.

Rajasthan, which goes to the polls at the end of the year, has been given two new cabinet ministers, one to replace Dr C. P. Joshi, who resigned from the cabinet on Saturday and is now a party general secretary. Sis Ram Ola (b. 1927) gets labour and employment and Girija Vyas (b. 1946) urban poverty and alleviation, the slot vacated by Ajay Maken, who now heads the Congress’ communications division.

Ms. Vyas has, in the past, headed the National Women’s Commission, chaired the Congress’s media department and been chief whip of her party in Parliament.

In the last six months, the Congress’s chances of retaining Rajasthan have revived, but the dominant Jaat community remains opposed to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. The party, therefore, hopes that Mr.Ola, a prominent Jaat leader, who has been a minister both in the State and at the Centre on more than one occasion, will fill the breach.

Karnataka, which the Congress wrested from the BJP in the Assembly elections earlier this year, has been rewarded. Oscar Fernandes (b. 1941), who Manikrao Gavit (b. 1934), a tribal leader from Maharashtra, who has won nine consecutive Lok Sabha elections, returns to the Union Cabinet as Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment, while the three time-MP from Punjab, Santosh Choudhury (b.1944), is the new Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare and E. M. Sudarsana Natchiappan, Rajya Sabha member from Tamil Nadu (b. 1947) — who had once defeated P. Chidambaram in a Lok Sabha election in Sivaganga — is the new Minister of State for Commerce and Industry. Interestingly, Birendra Singh, who was dropped as general secretary on Sunday and was expected to be included in the Cabinet, did not find a berth. As speculation swirled in the capital — was he hobbled by a rival or had someone dug up dirt on him? — the Congress announced that he would be a member of the Congress Working Committee. quit as party general secretary on Sunday, is the new Union Road Transport and Highways Minister, while Union Labour Minister Mallikarjun Kharge, who had hoped to become Chief Minister, has been elevated as Railway Minister. Of the four southern States, the BJP has a hold only in Karnataka. The Congress wants to ensure that it replicates the success it had in the Assembly elections in the Lok Sabha polls due next year.

Manikrao Gavit (b. 1934), a tribal leader from Maharashtra, who has won nine consecutive Lok Sabha elections, returns to the Union Cabinet as Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment, while the three time-MP from Punjab, Santosh Choudhury (b.1944), is the new Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare and E. M. Sudarsana Natchiappan, Rajya Sabha member from Tamil Nadu (b. 1947) — who had once defeated P. Chidambaram in a Lok Sabha election in Sivaganga — is the new Minister of State for Commerce and Industry.

Interestingly, Birendra Singh, who was dropped as general secretary on Sunday and was expected to be included in the Cabinet, did not find a berth. As speculation swirled in the capital — was he hobbled by a rival or had someone dug up dirt on him? — the Congress announced that he would be a member of the Congress Working Committee

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