Cabinet Reshuffle Triggers Anger In The Congress A Lost Opportunity
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh effected what he has called the “last and final reshuffle before the polls in 2014” but what should have been an “expansive” exercise (in his own words) sends the message of merely fulfilling in some slots and is being seen as a lost opportunity by the Prime Minister in sending a strong message of giving a new look to his trouble-torn government which has been hurtling from one crisis to another.
Party leaders say it also sends the signal that the reshuffle is a reflection of the growing differences between Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi as they could not come to an agreement on a number of key persons and portfolios, which is why the bulk of the cabinet has been left untouched and the exercise looks like a patchwork which has been put together at random with Dr Singh, Rahul Gandhi, Ahmed Patel and Sonia Gandhi getting their own way in degrees.
The Congress party however appears to be deeply embarrassed by the Prime Minister’s remarks that the reshuffle would be the last before the polls are held. The party immediately went into a damage-control mode after a host of reactions from various state units and leaders sent out the message that the Prime Minister’s turn of phrase has not gone down too well with the party.
The AICC spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said that what the Prime Minister had said actually was that he hoped there would be no major reshuffle after this one. The party spokesman said that the PM had not ruled out a reshuffle particularly when he said that there was no finality in life.
This is a fact that the Congress had to add the word “major” to buttress its argument and to send the message to the rank and file that the Congress leadership believes there would be more reshuffles. With various state units and individual leaders upset at the lopsided reshuffle, party sources say there is certainly cause for concern, even though the party is playing down the controversies surrounding the reshuffle.
Interestingly, even before the ink had dried on the blueprint of the new shuffle, the Prime Minister accepted the resignation of Gurudas Kamat from the council of ministers and sent it to the President for acceptance. Kamat, a five-term Lok Sabha MP from Mumbai, was unhappy at not being given cabinet rank as well as the fact that his portfolio looked a bit scratchy to him. He however has issued a detailed clarification that the resignation by him has been made after deep thought keeping in mind his political future and has nothing to do with any unhappiness as is being portrayed by the media and certain sections of the Congress party. He has clarified that reports suggesting that he was to be sacked are also wrong and that he resigned on his own volition and it was not a pressure tactic for any gains.
Sources suggest that Gurudas Kamat is upset that a first term MP Milind Deora who is also from Mumbai has been made a minister and that too with a key portfolio like communications and IT. Despite his seniority, Kamat has not been promoted to cabinet rank though others who were in the youth Congress like Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik and others have been promoted to cabinet rank.
It is being suggested in Congress circles that the secret of Anand Sharma’s rise is that he has never won an election in his life (not even at the block level) while Mukul too has lost more elections than he has won except in 2009 when he won the Lok Sabha polls.
Senior leaders say that there is visible anger in the party which is why leaders like Veerapa Moily openly went into an attack mode saying he was removed because of vested interests. Interestingly the buzz in the Congress is that Moily is now threatening to write a book exposing the main players in the 2G scam as well as other aspects like the war between the solicitor general and the attorney general and the actual deals which took place. Moily is a prolific writer in both prose and verse and may well make good his threat as he feels he has been wronged and his image sullied for being called a non performer. Later, he clarified that he has been misquoted and now says he is happy with his new portfolio of corporate affairs.
In Assam, there is anger because despite putting up a sterling performance in the assembly polls, the state has been punished and now has no cabinet minister after the removal of Handique since Pawan Singh Ghatowar has been brought in as MOS independent charge. Ghatowar was the Pradesh Returning Officer (PRO) for UP in the organisational elections and has had intensive interaction with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, hence the decision to make him a minister.
Amongst the younger brigade there is anger at the elevation of Jitender Singh who has been made MOS Home, despite having no experience at any level, except that he is considered to be close to Rahul Gandhi and belongs to a royal family. It is being suggested in the AICC that he would be retained as a secretary also apart from being a union minister. A senior leader who was not happy with the current developments quipped: “Maybe, Jitender Singh is being groomed under P Chidambaram to be Rahul Gandhi’s home minister!”
Another Rahul favourite who joined office just an hour after taking oath was Jairam Ramesh. After taking over at 6 pm Ramesh was in office till 1 am in the morning, going through the files. And today he was back in front of the cameras, with the earnest mission of keeping the rural development ministry in the photo frame and a lot of bytes for those who cover the ministry.
After just half a day at the office, Jairam Ramesh has contradicted the stand of his predecessor Vilasrao Deshmukh on the land acquisition bill. While the government has so far had huge reservations about the recommendations of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC), Jairam has been quick to fire back by saying that the bill as prepared by the NAC would be accepted by his ministry and he would be preparing the final draft and put it on the website to get reactions on the provisions of the bill.
He said the land acquisition bill would be brought before Parliament in the monsoon session beginning August 1. The matter assumes urgency in the wake of the challenge thrown by Mayawati to Rahul Gandhi that the UPA government should bring the land acquisition bill if he was serious about the rights of farmers and the land acquired since merely dramatics would not serve the purpose.
Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly said that the Congress would push the government to bring the bill in this session, and Jairam Ramesh is certainly on red alert to heed Rahul’s wish on the bill and to speed brief of Jairam is obviously to up the ante on the various policies and programmes in the crucial social sector rural development ministry. The work had slowed to a snail’s pace both under CP Joshi and Vilasrao Deshmukh with Jairam being asked to re-energise the ministry.
Finally, getting down to dropping some non-performers and those who have moved to the party, the Prime Minister dropped seven ministers which include Dayanidhi Maran, Murli Deora, BK Handique, Dr MS Gill, Kantilal Bhuria, A Sai Pratap and Arun Yadav.
The most significant aspect of the reshuffle was that Veerapa Moily who was seen as unable to handle the law ministry was eased out and instead Salman Khurshid was brought in as the new law minister, at the same time retaining additional charge of minority affairs. The Prime Minister enjoys a good equation with Salman and he is also seen as an important component in terms of being a minority and being from UP.
Interestingly, the Prime Minister managed to get his way on key issues which are on his radar and in which he has a deep interest. Despite the best efforts of Sonia Gandhi, the Prime Minister managed to retain SM Krishna in external affairs, and he managed to remove Jairam Ramesh from the environment ministry in view of the large number of complaints against him from corporate houses.
Jairam Ramesh was promoted to cabinet rank to send the message that he has been rewarded for his good work and at the same time given rural development, a portfolio in which Rahul Gandhi has a great deal of interest. But panchayati raj was separated from rural development and given to Kishore Chandra Deo and a part of it to Gurudas Kamat in the shape of drinking water and sanitation but even before the exercise could end, Kamat sent in his resignation.
After many false starts Kishore Chandra Deo has been brought in as a cabinet minister with charge of tribal affairs and panchayati raj. Known to be close to both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi his main qualification is his honest and clean image, which is sorely needed in a cabinet where graft has become a middle name.
Beni Prasad Verma, a senior Kurmi leader from UP, has been promoted as cabinet minister keeping in view the substantial Kurmi vote in eastern up where Verma has influence. But Rahul failed to bring in any more leaders from UP into the council of ministers.
Dinesh Trivedi has been promoted to cabinet and is Mamta’s choice for Railways while Sudeep Bandopadhyaya will be the new MoS from Trinamool and would be in health. Mukul Roy who created a storm by ignoring the PM has been dropped from Railways and now only retains shipping. He is MoS.
The Prime Minister brought in four MoS independent charge but out of these Srikant Jena is unhappy with his portfolio programme implementation and statistics as well as not having been made a cabinet minister while Gurudas Kamat has resigned and does not want drinking water and sanitation. He says he prefers to work for the party and has left for Mumbai.
AICC spokesperson Jayanti Natrajan returns to the government after 13 years and is the new environment and forests minister. She is known to be in the good books of Sonia Gandhi.
Paban Singh Ghatowar is from Assam and replaces Handique. He has been given charge of north-eastern affairs.
The ministers of state who have been inducted are Sandip Bandopadhyaya of the Trinamool, Charan Das Mahant who is from Chhattisgarh, Milind Deora who replaces his father Murli Deora in the government, Rajiv Shukla who gets parliamentary affairs and Jitender Singh who is the new MoS for home. He again is Rahul Gandhi’s nominee in the home ministry, possibly to keep an eye on Chidambaram say sources. Milind gets telecom in the reshuffle even as Sachin Pilot is also retained as MoS telecom.
Interestingly, Kapil Sibal retains both the HRD and telecom portfolio despite attempts to bgring him down, while Veerapa Moily is moved to corporate affairs in place of Murli Deora. Salman gets law while Anand Sharma gets additional charge of Dayanidhi Maran’s portfolio textiles and Pawan Kumar Bansal goes back to water resources. Vilasrao Deshmukh has been demoted and from rural development and panchyati raj he now gets science and technology.
The questions being asked in the Congress after the much-anticipated exercise is the equation between the big two in the Congress with neither the Prime Minister nor Sonia Gandhi happy at the reshuffle exercise which has drawn a huge amount of flak from both within the party, the government and the media.
A senior CWC member asked, “Is the Prime Minister suggesting that this is the team which will take the government and the party to the polls? Or is he suggesting that there may be an early election or even that he may not be the Prime Minister for much longer?”
Senior leaders contend that the Prime Minister is obviously cocking a snook at Sonia Gandhi with his remarks that this is the last reshuffle suggesting that the party should fall behind the Prime Minister and let him guide them to the polls.
With large parts of the government including crucial infrastructure ministries being left untouched and various states rising up in anger at being virtually under represented, Andhra Pradesh being a classic example, sources in the AICC aver that the big picture is yet to unfold in the party. It’s a picture which has been largely anticipated as events and actions suggest that all is not well between 10 Janpath and 7 Race Course Road. The final denoument is awaited!
By Renu Mittal