A user’s guide to India’s cabinet reshuffle

October 28, 2012

(Opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters.)

In what is most likely the last cabinet reshuffle for the UPA-II government  before the 2014 general elections, 22 ministers were sworn in at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on Sunday.

Here is the background, as explained by Frank Jack Daniel and Mayank Bhardwaj of Reuters:

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave his cabinet an overdue facelift on Sunday, bringing in younger ministers in a bid to breathe new life into his aged, scandal-tainted government ahead of state and federal elections. The reshuffle, which has been on the cards for six months, may be Singh’s last chance to significantly change the direction of his government and convince voters the ruling Congress party deserves a third consecutive term in 2014.

The rejig, most analysts say, was done to create a team that will lead the government in the run-up to the polls. While Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, chose not to join the government and work for the Congress party, the new-look government with a mix of young guns and experienced politicians is a welcome step. Here’s why I think some of the key players will do well at their new jobs.

  • Salman Khurshid: A Congress MP from Uttar Pradesh’s Farrukhabad constituency has joined the ranks of the “big four” in the union cabinet, having been named India’s External Affairs Minister. In replacing goof-prone S.M. Krishna with Khurshid, the Congress has not only shown faith in the latter’s political skills, but has also snubbed civil society activist-turned politician Arvind Kejriwal, who has accused Khurshid of corruption.  Indian diplomacy and foreign policy could see some positive changes under the leadership of this 59-year-old lawyer.
  • Shashi Tharoor: A former U.N. diplomat, Tharoor’s first innings as a minister of state lasted less than a year. The erudite Tharoor couldn’t get used to the Indian political climate, and his public comments and witticisms often displeased the Congress leadership until he was asked to resign over the IPL controversy.  Re-inducted into the government as a minister of state in the Human Resource Development Ministry, the Fletcher School graduate can be expected to push the government’s educational reforms and improve the implementation of the Right to Education Act.
  • Kapil Sibal: Once bitten, the twice-shy Congress-led UPA government seems to be in no mood to take any chances with the upcoming 2G spectrum auction, and has relieved Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal of the additional charge of the HRD Ministry. An astute politician, Sibal will try to ensure the government keeps its head high after a successful airwaves auction.
  • Sachin Pilot: Having drawn praise from Sibal for his role as the Minister of State, Communications and Information Technology, Pilot will now be looking after the Corporate Affairs Ministry. A member of the Rahul Gandhi’s so-called youth brigade, Pilot has been given the portfolio at a time when India Inc holds its breath over a new Companies bill and changes in the Competition Act.
  • Jyotiraditya Scindia: The cabinet reshuffle witnessed the 41-year-old Scindia’s rise to “power”, quite literally. As minister of state for power, the Guna MP will be expected to tackle successfully the challenges of chronic energy shortages in a country that witnessed one of the world’s worst blackouts in July this year.
  • Veerappa Moily: The Petroleum Ministry is one portfolio than can tilt the balance for or against any party in the elections. Moily has a tough job – one in which he has to ensure that the “aam aadmi”, or “common man”, does not have to dig deep into his pockets for petrol, diesel and cooking gas while trying to reign in the subsidy burden of the government.
  • Manish Tewari: One of the most well known faces on Indian news channels, where as Congress spokesman he defended his party against the brickbats of the opposition and many a TV anchor, this lawmaker from Ludhiana will now be in charge of regulating the very media that adored him. Who could have been a better choice to helm the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting than the media-savvy Tewari?
  • Pawan Kumar Bansal: A Congress lawmaker from Chandigarh, Bansal will now head the Ministry of Railways, a coveted portfolio that political parties often use to push their populist agenda. The Congress has cleverly desisted from giving away the railways to a coalition ally and can use the ministry to win the votes of a populace angered by the numerous corruption allegations against the party’s MPs.
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