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Indian PM inducts younger ministers in Cabinet

Publication Date : 29-10-2012


In a major reshuffle yesterday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inducted 22 lawmakers, including 17 new faces, to his cabinet.

Experts said the change, possibly the last before next general elections in 2014, is a means to show an image makeover to Manmohan’s government battling a series of alleged scams.

Of the 22 ministers sworn in by President Pranab Mukherjee at the Darbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi yesterday morning, seven are of cabinet rank, two junior ministers with independent charge and 13 junior ministers.

After the oath taking ceremony, Manmohan Singh told reporters that this was hopefully the last reshuffle before the general elections in 2014.

Along with the reshuffle, the PM also carried out a change of some key portfolios, appointing Salman Khurshid, the 59-year-old lawmaker from India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh, as India’s new Foreign Minister following the resignation of 80-year-old S.M. Krishna.

Harish Rawat, a veteran Congressman from the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, has been made the new Water Resources Minister, the portfolio earlier held by Pawan Kumar Bansal who has been given the key portfolio of Railway once held by Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee (before she became West Bengal Chief Minister) and later by her trusted aide Mukul Roy.

Khurshid had been law minister, a post that has now gone to Ashwani Kumar, a suave and articulate Congress lawmaker from Punjab.

Contrary to media speculation, Rahul Gandhi did not join the government in this reshuffle.

Manmohan Singh later told media persons that he would have been happy if Rahul had joined the government but the latter wanted to work for Congress party. Singh also ruled out early parliamentary elections which are due in first half of 2014.

Rahul, the 42-year-old Congress general secretary and scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, was seen by many as future PM, is most likely to get a "bigger role" in the party in an internal reorganisation planned soon. He is currently one of the dozen-odd general secretaries in the party.

Rahul’s mother and Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who along with her son was present at the swearing-in ceremony, said after the ministerial reshuffle that Congress party’s organisational revamp would take place but did not specify when.

Congress sources said Rahul could be given a much larger organisational role -- the party’s working president, formalising his position as second-in-command after Sonia Gandhi ahead of 2014 general elections.

Khurshid’s shift to the foreign ministry came in the backdrop of charges of financial irregularities in his non-governmantal organisation (NGO) for differently-able people. The charges levelled by anti-corruption activist Arvind Kerjiwal were stoutly denied by Khurshid.

The other key portfolio change is that M. Veerappa Moily has been moved from corporate affairs ministry to petroleum ministry to replace S. Jaipal Reddy in the midst of an on-going conflict between India’s largest private company Reliance and the petroleum ministry over revising the cost of gas that the corporate giant is extracting from the Krishna Godavari basin. Reddy has been shunted to relatively less important ministry of science and technology and earth sciences.

Of the seven cabinet ministers, three are new faces -- K Rahman Khan, Chandresh Kumari Katoch and Dinshaw Patel -- while four current junior ministers are -- Ajay Maken Pallam Raju, Ashwini Kumar and Harish Rawat -- have been elevated to the cabinet rank.

Manish Tewari, 47-year-old Congress leader from Punjab and the party’s most prominent face in the media, and actor-turned-politician K Chiranjeevi from southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh have been inducted into the ministerial council as junior ministers with independent charge.

Among the 13 junior ministers there are former UN Under-Secretary General Shashi Tharoor who had resigned two years ago in the wake of his controversial “cattle class” remarks about air passengers travelling in economy class and allegations of a conflict of interest in his backing of an IPL cricket team linked to his wife Sunanda Pushkar.

Another prominent junior minister sworn in today is Tariq Anwar, general secretary of Nationalist Congress Party, a constituent of Congress-led UPA. Anwar will be in agriculture ministry headed by his party boss Sharad Pawar.

Three lawmakers from West Bengal Adhir Ranjan Chowdhry and Abu Hashme Khan Chowdhury, brother of late Congress leader Abu Barkat Ghani Khan Chowdhury, and Deepa Dasmunshi, wife of former federal minister Priyaranjan Dasmunshi.

All the junior three ministers from West Bengal are known staunch detractors of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her party Trinamool Congress which snapped its alliance with Congress and pulled out of UPA in September this year protesting hike in diesel price and foreign investment in multiband retail decisions of the federal government.

Contrary to domestic media reports, today’s reshuffle had very little young faces as the two youngest ministers inducted were 47 years old—Manish Tewari and Chiranjeevi.

However, Manmohan maintained his government is now a combination of youth and experienced and he has moved some “competent people” to the cabinet.

Ahead of today’s reshuffle, Krishna and six other cabinet and junior ministers had quit on Friday and Saturday.

Six ministers of Trinamool Congress resigned in September when the party quit the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the government.

A vacancy was created when senior Congress leader Vilasrao Deshmukh, who was minister for science and technology, died in August while two cabinet berths vacated by another UPA constituent party DMK leaders A.

Raja and Dayanidhi Maran stepped down in the wake of the 2G telecom spectrum allocation issue has not yet been filled up.

The cabinet reshuffle came at a time when the UPA government is buffeted by allegations of corruption and ahead of the winter session of parliament to be held November-December.


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