Disappointing reshuffle

THE MUCH-AWAITED and long-delayed reshuffle of the council of ministers of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in Delhi on Sunday was a disappointment, despite the induction of 22 new ministers and the jettisoning of some non-performing members of the cabinet.

For the government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, facing numerous challenges including corruption charges this was perhaps the last opportunity to overhaul the ministry before general elections are held in 2014.

After its surprise victory in the 2009 elections, the Congress-led UPA government’s second term has been overshadowed by widespread allegations of corruption against leading ministers, which have virtually setback its economic reforms agenda. Singh has in the past three years failed to lead his team, crippled by defiant allies and even members of his own party. The government appeared helpless in the face of a rising crescendo of charges levelled against it by civil society activists and opposition parties.

Now in its final lap before the 2014 elections, the UPA government wants to focus on governance, deepening reforms and kick-starting an economy that has failed to live up to its potential. The fact that many of the juniors have been promoted to the cabinet or given independent charge of ministries, and relatively young ministers inducted into the council reveals the top Congress leadership has realised there is not much time left to meet the rising aspirations of a young electorate.

What has surprised many in India is the apparent reluctance of Rahul Gandhi, the heir-apparent to the Congress throne — and son of party president Sonia, who is herself not in the best of health — to enter the ministry. Singh has often said that he is keen to accommodate Rahul in his council. The Gandhi scion is widely expected to lead the Congress in the 2014 general elections and if the party emerges victorious, could well take over from Singh, who is already 80.

While Rahul led the party’s campaigns in two crucial state elections in Bihar (in 2010) and Uttar Pradesh (earlier this year), he has been shielded from bearing responsibility for the humiliating defeats suffered by the Congress in both the states. He has also failed to make his mark in the national parliament, where he remains a silent spectator. But many of his close aides including Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Jitendra Singh have been promoted in the latest reshuffle.

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