Sonia, Manmohan differed on Cabinet reshuffle?

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The most probable answer to Cabinet reshuffle gimmick is that Manmohan Singh wanted to make radical changes, but Sonia Gandhi would not allow it. So the result was the deliberate attempt to create an illusion that a lot of changes had been affected, but actually nothing had happened beyond a change in the portfolios of a huge number of Ministers. “The Ministers are being sent from one building to another,” as some body said. Some of the changes are actually quite meaningless.

By Kingshuk Nag

Are there now serious differences between Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh? Looking at the latest Cabinet reshuffle it seems so. The rejig in the Cabinet seems to be an exercise in futility and the evidence of this comes from none other than the man, who effected the changes: Manmohan Singh. Minutes after he did the rejig, the Prime Minister announced that he would reshuffle his team once again after the Budget session. The Budget session is barely a month away. If he has to rejig his team once again, what was the compulsion for him to play a game of musical chairs now?  He could have waited for two months to affect a full scale reshuffle. After all the heavens would not have fallen in the intervening period. The most probable answer is that Manmohan Singh wanted to make radical changes, but Sonia Gandhi would not allow it. So the result was the deliberate attempt to create an illusion that a lot of changes had been affected, but actually nothing had happened beyond a change in the portfolios of a huge number of Ministers. “The Ministers are being sent from one building to another,” as some body said. Some of the changes            are actually quite meaningless. For instance Kamal Nath has been moved from Surface Transport to Urban Development. Both are equally important (or unimportant positions), so what is the purpose of swapping of portfolios?  I do not know.

In the run up to the Cabinet reshuffle (word about it had been out for the last few days) there was intense speculation that the team would see the exit of a huge number of non-performing mantris. At the same time there would be the entry of younger faces, who would be standard bearers of the party for a long time. But nothing of that kind has happened. In fact after all this talk, not a single Minister was dropped. And even M. S. Gill, whose tenure at the Sports Ministry was marked by controversies and the Common-wealth games fiasco, could only be shifted to the Ministry of Statistics. Even he could not be dropped. The same is the case with aging Ministers. A good example is Veerbhadra Singh, who managed to retain his place in the Cabinet if  only as Minister for Medium and Micro Industry. Earlier he was the Steel and Mines Minister. There was also a talk of many heavy weight Ministers like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kamal Nath and Veerappa Moily being dispatched to the party for organizational work. These Ministers got wind of the possibility of this happening and perhaps lobbied hard to continue in the Cabinet. The lure of a Ministership with all its trapping is irresistible. Never mind if the party is in desperate need for strengthening in view of the upcoming assembly elections in many states like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

Not a single Minister, who can qualify to be a young blood, was inducted into the team. Unless you think that Beni Prasad Verma, a former Mulayam aide and Minister for Telecom in an earlier  United Front regime qualifies to be described so at the age of more than 60. The portfolios of many Ministers  of State were also changed. But those, who know of the way that things operate in the corridors of power, would know that Cabinet Ministers allocate little or no work to their Ministers of State. Most of them are in state of disguised employment. So what was the idea of changing their portfolios? For example what difference does it make whether Dinsha Patel is Minister of State for Petroleum or Minister of State for Mines? (Dinsha was earlier in petroleum but has now dispatched to mines. He represents the Nadiad seat in Gujarat.)

Manmohan Singh is not a paragon of political acumen. Therefore, he is hell bent on pursuing the agenda of reforms, which according to him leads to an improvement in the state of the economy. But while reforms by and large are desirable, the way they have been implemented in the last 20 years, has led to the rich becoming richer and the poor remaining where they were. (This is the reason why 20 years after liberalization 37 percent of all Indians are still below the poverty line). So Manmohan Singh, the standard bearer for reforms, wanted non-political persons like Montek Singh Ahluwalia or C. Rangarajan as Finance Minister. If stories doing the round are correct, Sonia Gandhi would not have any of this. As head of a political party, her ears are closer to the ground and, therefore, she is more aware of the voices from down below. But at the same time, those have worked with her say that she is generally a person with a conservative approach. Change does not come to her easily. So with Sonia Gandhi overseeing the Manmohan Singh exercise, it was hardly possible to bring in radical changes. But exceptions prove the rule and the only change that was purposive seems to be the allotment of the Petroleum Ministry to Jaipal Reddy. The earlier Minister Murli Deora was close to a particular industrial house which is a player in the petroleum sector.

When Manmohan Singh says that there will be another round of Cabinet changes after the Budget session, he means that this is what he desires. Probably he himself knows as well as anybody else that it is mere tinkering that he will be able to do in the next round too. A few Ministers here and a few Ministers there. Did somebody say: The more things change the more they remain the same?

Courtesy: The Times of India

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