In what looks like the last reshuffle of UPA-II, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has gone by the demands of the Congress’ internal dynamics rather than by the needs of governance. With barely a year left to go for the general elections, the rejig has given the party’s new leadership a free hand in fine-tuning its politics.
Thus, 71-year-old Mallikarjun Kharge has been given the Railway Ministry as part of an “deal” for not insisting on chief ministership in Karnataka, which has gone to Siddaramaiah. Similarly, 86-year-old Sis Ram Ola, from Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, was given the Labour Ministry back, in a bid to appease the Jat leader who had threatened to go against the party in the Assembly election due in months. Girija Vyas, also from Rajasthan, has been given the Housing, Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation ministry. Vyas is known to nurse chief ministerial ambitions while the Congress wants to retain the state under Ashok Gehlot. Hence the Cabinet berth. And the Roads portfolio has gone to the veteran Oscar Fernandes, who is said to have had a role in regaining coastal Karnataka for the party. New Textiles Minister Kavuru Sambasiva Rao is an ardent advocate of a unified Andhra Pradesh and a leader of the Kamma community, to which Chandrababu Naidu also belongs. Keeping him in good humour could help both to soften him on the Telangana front and make an overture to the Kamma community in his native coastal Andhra region, the one place the state Congress hopes to secure at least in part. The choice of Ministers of State is also largely driven by political considerations. Manikrao Gavit, a 78-year-old tribal leader from Maharashtra and nine-term MP, has been made MoS for Social Justice and Empowerment. J D Seelam, a former IAS officer and a Dalit from Andhra Pradesh, has been made MoS for Finance. Another Dalit leader from Hoshiarpur, Punjab, Santosh Chowdhury, has come in as MoS for Health and Family Welfare. All of these posts had earlier been with former allies like the DMK and the TMC. Unlike the Cabinet-rank ministers, in whose choice the high command’s signature is visible, the MoS bear the clear signs of Rahul Gandhi’s budding political penchants.
Young turks like Manish Tewari and Adhir Choudhary, who had successfully defended the government and the Prime Minister in the JPC probing the 2G scam, were inducted in the Council of Ministers last time. This time, another JPC worthy and Rajya Sabha MP, E M Sudarsana Nachiappan, has found his way in as MoS for Commerce and Industry. The first statement the Prime Minister made after the new ministers’ swearing-in was another expression of readiness to make way for Rahul in the eventuality of the UPA returning to power. “I have always said I would be very happy to see Rahul step into my shoes.”