The reshuffle was an ideal opportunity to create positive buzz on the UPA. But they let it go by, says Vijay Simha
The first claimant to a promotion was Minister of State for Environment Jairam Ramesh. He had done enough to merit a Cabinet status, even his opponents granted. Instead, the Prime Minister elevated at least one nonperformer and two others. Apparently, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister differed over Ramesh. The PM thought he was too controversial while Sonia backed Ramesh. Status quo for Ramesh is a regression, and he is now an unwitting symbol of the fierce battles that go into picking ministers. It is likely that Ramesh could get another chance, but overlooking his claims now is a negative for Manmohan Singh.
One of the things working against UPA2 is the impression that giant corporations control its top leaders. A pro-corporate minister in Manmohan Singh’s cabinet is Murli Deora, who spent long years as head of the Mumbai Congress with rich friends. Moving him from Petroleum to Corporate Affairs is a message that the Prime Minister cares for the bigwigs. It is meant to be a government for the aam aadmi, but Singh’s shuffling of Deora’s portfolio is baffling. Not a smart move, especially when the trust in the UPA is lessening by the day.
A central battle in the country is over its mineral resources. Some of the biggest foreign investment proposals are in this sector, with many conflicts already raging over corporate mining interests in India’s interiors. Just at this time, Singh has taken away a Cabinet minister, BK Handique, and put mining in charge of a new and junior minister, J Dinsha Patel. It is possible that the Prime Minister has bigger plans for mining, which he wants to put in action after the Budget session of Parliament. But if he doesn’t, the move to leave the ministry for mines open to influence, national and international, could haunt him.
Some of the biggest names in UPA2, like Sharad Pawar, Mamata Banerjee, SM Krishna and Praful Patel are seen as having underperformed. Yet, when the moment came, Patel got a promotion, Pawar’s workload was reduced and Banerjee was unrebuked. The message going out from this is that the Prime Minister is not strong. Weak and shoddy performance is not punished and it goes against everything that Manmohan Singh holds dear. Even within the Congress, there appears to be no real logic to the fresh postings of a host of junior ministers.
5 REPEATING OLD WAYS OF PERSUADING THE VOTER
Uttar Pradesh is a state marked as important by the Congress leadership for the revival of the party. It is slated to go to polls in 2012, but already the Prime Minister is making the token gestures. Coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal was elevated to the Cabinet, purely to keep people in Uttar Pradesh happy. Another minister from the state, Salman Khurshid, also gained a promotion. Evidently, this is a gesture to both Uttar Pradesh and the Muslims. Only, tokenism doesn’t seem to work much, given how people have responded to the Congress in the north for some years. It is an ancient form of trying to influence voters, one that does not go with Singh’s image.
Photos : Shailendra Pandey, PIB