New Delhi: Three new
ministers of state were inducted, three promoted to cabinet rank
and some major portfolios changed hands Wednesday in the
much-anticipated shuffle of the ministerial pack that Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh described as minor and his critics as too
The exercise, meant to shore up the battered image of the
19-month-old government buffeted by corruption scandals and
charges of non-performance, saw no minister being dropped and no
changes made in the big four - the prime minister's core team of
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P. Chidambaram,
Defence Minister A.K. Antony and External Affairs Minister S.M.
The changes in this first overhaul of the United Progressive
Alliance (UPA) II government were restricted largely to his
Congress party and did not include any from his allies, except for
the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Muslim League Kerala
NCP leader Praful Patel was promoted as cabinet minister along
with Congress veterans Salman Khursheed and Shriprakash Jaiswal,
taking the cabinet strength to 35, including the prime minister.
Khursheed got water resources with additional charge of minority
affairs. Patel got charge of heavy industries and public
enterprises and Jaiswal retained his portfolio but got promoted
because of his good work.
The entrusting of coal and water resources portfolios to cabinet
rank ministers reflected the importance of such important
resources to the national economy.
The three new faces in the prime minister's new team of ministers
administered the oath of office by President Pratibha Patil at the
Ashoka Hall of Rastrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace were
Ashwani Kumar, K.C. Venugopal and Beni Prasad Verma.
While Ashwani Kumar (science and technology, earth sciences,
planning and parliamentary affairs) and Beni Prasad Verma (steel)
have been union ministers before, Venugopal (power), a lawyer and
a first-time MP, has only been a minister in Kerala.
"This is a minor reshuffle. There will be an expansion of the
cabinet after the budget session (of parliament)," the 78-year-old
prime minister, halfway into his second term, told reporters after
the swearing-in of the three new ministers in his government.
Though sceptics pointed out that there appeared to be no punitive
action against any non-performing or tainted minister in this
reshuffle, being held in the backdrop of the many crises faced by
the government, some like Murli Deora (corporate affairs) and M.S.
Gill (statistics and programme implementation), were obviously
Deora was removed from the petroleum and natural gas ministry in
an apparent bid to offset criticism about escalating fuel prices
and charge was given to S. Jaipal Reddy.
Gill's removal from the sports ministry comes after the
Commonwealth Games, which went off successfully but saw India's
image being tainted for the many corruption scandals. Ajay Maken
takes over from him.
In another change, senior minister and NCP chief Sharad Pawar,
under attack for his alleged failure in curbing the rising prices
of essential commodities, was relieved of the charge of consumer
affairs and food though he retained the agriculture portfolio.
The consumer affairs and food portfolio was given to K.V. Thomas.
The three - Maken, Thomas and Beni Prasad Verma - are ministers of
state with independent charge.
With this, the Manmohan Singh ministry will have 78 ministers - 35
cabinet ministers (including the prime minister), six ministers of
state with independent charge and 31 ministers of state.
The opposition was unimpressed.
"Except for the reduction in the portfolio of Sharad Pawar, there
is nothing new in the reshuffle of union cabinet," Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman told IANS.
Forward Bloc national secretary G Devarajan added that the
reshuffle "just old wine in new bottle", a phrase that found oft
repetition by political commentators.
"This is not going to solve any of the pressing problems of the
people like inflation, price rise or unemployment," he said.
Analysts pointed out that there was little effort to address some
The new council of ministers has only three women cabinet
ministers, one woman minister of state with independent charge and
four women ministers of state. This accounts for only 10 percent
representation against the much touted 33 percent.
The Congress might also find itself in a tricky situation
vis-à-vis its allies. No minister has been inducted from West
Bengal, home ground of the Trinamool Congress of feisty Railway
Minister Mamata Banerjee, and from Tamil Nadu, where DMK is the
Both states are heading for polls. However, Kerala, also
poll-bound has been well looked after - there's a new minister in
K.C. Venugopal, a new portfolio (external affairs) to Muslim
League minister E Ahamed and additional charge of civil aviation
for Overseas Indian Minister Vayalar Ravi.
The government has been plagued by issues of governance, reflected
mainly by its inability to curb rising prices of food and fuel and
political corruption that has made even industry leaders write
letters seeking the prime minister's "urgent" intervention to
check the "governance deficit".