India Insight

A user’s guide to India’s cabinet reshuffle

(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.

India’s democratic tempest

By Shashi Tharoor
The opinions expressed are his own

April might be the cruellest month, but, for India’s major political parties this year, March was fairly brutal. On March 6, following an American-style “Super Tuesday” of its own, India announced the results of five state assembly elections, which confounded pollsters, surprised pundits, and shook a complacent political establishment.

Nothing went according to script. The Congress party was expected to come to power in Punjab, where chronic “anti-incumbency” has traditionally precluded the re-election of any state government. Instead, the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal won convincingly. By contrast, in the northeastern state of Manipur, Congress was expected to yield ground to critics of its long-serving chief minister, Okram Ibobi Singh, who instead pulled off an overwhelming victory.

In the tourist paradise of Goa, the Congress government expected to be re-elected, but was trounced by a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Meanwhile, the two parties found themselves neck-and-neck in the hill state of Uttarakhand, with neither claiming a majority, though Congress had been heavily favoured in the polls.

India’s nuclear path

By Shashi Tharoor
The opinions expressed are his own

When the Commonwealth heads of government meet in Australia later this month, one prominent leader is almost certain to be conspicuously absent: India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. India is a strong backer of the association of former British colonies (and some new entrants without that shared heritage, notably Mozambique and Rwanda), so no displeasure with the Commonwealth is implied.

Instead, rumours in New Delhi suggest that the decision to send a delegation led by India’s ceremonial vice-president, albeit an able former diplomat, might be a not-so-subtle rebuke to the summit’s host, Australia.

On the face of it, it is hard to imagine two countries with less cause for conflict. United by the English language, similar democratic political institutions, and a shared passion for cricket, and divided by no significant issues of contention, India and Australia seem obvious candidates for the sort of benign relationship of which most diplomats dream.

Has Shashi Tharoor dug his own political grave?

Is it too early to write the political obituary of Shashi Tharoor, who over the weekend resigned from the post of junior foreign minister not even a year into holding the post?

Shashi TharoorSome commentators have already written him off. Others, including a report in the Hindustan Times on Tuesday, cite Congress party sources to say Tharoor has not lost all the goodwill of the leadership and could one day make a comeback.

His resignation, so they say, had more to do with Congress not wanting to be seen to let Tharoor get away with it.

Trick or Tweet? Can politicians have an online life?

I recently came across this article on the Washington Post.

GERMANY BOOK FAIRBeing a part of a generation that gradually, if with cautious unease, learnt to adjust to the Internet, I could not help but compare India’s policymakers with those of developed nations based on their level of acceptance of changing media.

Frankly, it is difficult to imagine our lawmakers in the same position as described in the article.

For years, when social networking meant visiting friends and family at Christmas and New Year, and Facebook was still a concept, representatives of our democracy would depend on traditional ways to reach out to their electorate.

Professionals in politics?

What’s common to a banker, a dancer and a former U.N. under-secretary general?

Answer: they are all contesting the general election in India.

The main battle in the polls from April 16 to May 13 this year, as in years past, is between the centre-left ruling Congress and the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. A loose alliance of smaller regional parties has formed a Third Front, as well.

But Meera Sanyal, the country head of ABN Amro Bank, is not aligning with any of them. She will contest from South Mumbai, an upmarket locality and the main business district, as an independent candidate.

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