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Rahul opts out of Cabinet again

Publication Date : 29-10-2012


Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced a major Cabinet reshuffle with an eye to the 2014 elections, even as a widely anticipated government role for Rahul Gandhi again failed to materialise.

The Congress Party's general secretary decided to turn down the Cabinet offer. Dr Singh said he was "disappointed".

A total of 17 new senior and junior ministers were inducted into the new Cabinet.

Though Dr Singh showed a preference for experienced hands, he gave some young politicians a chance. He promoted Jyotiraditya Scindia, 41, to Power Minister, a crucial post given India's serious power shortages, and Sachin Pilot, 35, to Minister for Corporate Affairs, whose ministry is probing some high-profile cases. New Cabinet members included Manish Tewari, 47, a Rahul Gandhi aide, who is now Minister for Information and Broadcasting, and Lalchand Kataria, 44, the junior minister for defence.

But the most high-profile post of External Affairs Minister went to Salman Khurshid, 59. He replaced S.M. Krishna, 80, who resigned on Friday.

Dr Singh has also tried to strengthen his team to help push his economic and social agenda. He retained his core team of reformers, from Finance Minister P. Chidambaram to Commerce Minister Anand Sharma. Both have been vital to his agenda of opening up the economy to foreign investment and are expected to play a key role in further reforms.

Kamal Nath is Parliamentary Affairs Minister and will have to help get important legislation such as the land acquisition Bill through Parliament.

"(Dr Singh) did provide opportunities to some younger politicians, but experience outweighed youth," said Sudhir Panwar, an Uttar Pradesh-based analyst.

The reshuffle is seen mainly as an attempt by the Prime Minister to revive the fortunes of his administration and the ruling Congress ahead of a general election in 2014, and to move past the charges of corruption and poor governance levelled against his second term in office.

Adding to his woes is slowing economic growth, now expected at about 5 per cent for the year.

But analysts were doubtful whether the shake-up would greatly alter the fortunes of the Congress Party in the months ahead.

The new External Affairs Minister is embroiled in a controversy over funds for the disabled. Anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal has alleged that Khurshid and his wife misappropriated 7.1 million rupees (US$132,000) meant for the disabled.

Shashi Tharoor, 56, who has been brought back as junior minister for human resources development, quit government in 2010 after claims of impropriety in a domestic cricket league.

"The reshuffle has been carried out with more of an eye to the 2014 election. But fortunes can be revived only if leaders and party workers work hard in the constituencies and states... not through this reshuffle. The only game changer would be if they brought in a big-bang social welfare scheme like the food security Bill," said Buddhadeb Ghosh, a senior fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences.

Dr Singh acknowledged that he had tried to balance youth and experience in his new Cabinet.

"It is a combination of youth, experience and relevance to the portfolios that have been entrusted to the ministers," he said. "The road ahead is full of challenges. But this is a team I hope will be able to meet those challenges."

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party scoffed at the reshuffle, saying there was nothing new or young about the Cabinet, while corporate India welcomed the new appointments.


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