May 01, 2021
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The Reshuffle Kerfuffle

The Reshuffle Kerfuffle

So, what are the take-aways from today's much-hyped but eventually timid and whimper of a reshuffle? Other, of course, from the usual tantrums from those sulking at being slighted.

The most inexplicable —or, at least intriguing —part was the PM saying that this would be the last reshuffle of the cabinet before the next elections. Was he hinting that the elections are round the corner? Or was he trying to suggest that barring a change or two necessitated by coalition compulsions, he intends to keep his core team pretty much what it is, thus promising stability and continuity in policy? Probably the latter. 

But implicit in this is that inefficiency and even serious charges of impropriety will be tolerated. 

Example: the TMC gets to keep Railway ministry. Mr Sibal gets to keep both his portfolios (at least till DMK is ready to take over its ATM ministry that it seems to consider a monopoly over.)

So what was the need to go on record to say there won't be any more reshuffles? Or why shut the door, as a tweet below points out, that could have been kept ajar?

Offhand, one could perhaps speculate that this was an effort to assure the general janta that he is there to stay till the next elections and that the likes of Mr Digvijay Singh would not be inflicted on the country in his cabinet. And also, perhaps, that with Mr SM Krishna continuing as the external affairs minister, the PM still will pretty much determine the foreign policy.

Then of course was the big ticket item. Mr Jairam Ramesh. As Mr N. Ram put it: "The shifting of Ramesh is a cause of great concern. He was making a real difference." While Mr Ram hoped that Ms Natarajan who replaces Mr Ramesh would emulate him, the message that goes out is very different from what the Congress party would be hoping to put out. As John Eliot puts it in the Independent:

This is a victory for businessmen and other government ministries that have objected to Ramesh’s often brash, but nevertheless well-intentioned, blocking of mining, infrastructure and other projects that breached hitherto largely ignored regulations.

He has put the environment firmly on India’s political agenda and has begun to clean up a previously highly corrupt ministry , setting up new environmental and conservation institutions, and transforming India’s impact on international climate change negotiations. In recent weeks, he has compromised on environmental approvals, particularly over coal mining projects, but that does not seem to have been enough to save him, with his often-provocative manner, from being moved.

On this, Mr Singh has had his way, apparently, as he had made his views on Mr Ramesh clear on more than one occasion. That Mr Ramesh had to be "kicked upstairs" was perhaps a necessity, given his proximity to the powers that be in the Congress and how important his role is perceived to be in the future and the PM was therefore right in clarifying that he has been “given more extensive responsibility. His experience will be better utilised in this portfolio.” Considering that he would be in charge of UPA's most politically sensitive social sector initiatives, including MGREGA, the trade-off makes sense, as @sunitarora puts it:

Jairam elevation indicator that "real" india topmost on sonia gandhi's mind; one of the men responsible for 2004 gets mandate for 2014!

For now, the UPA2 seems to have put its shutters down and perhaps the PM would be hoping that more of his colleagues do not have to find their way to the place that rhymes with Bihar, particularly as one Mr Subramanian Swamy has been specifying August as the month to watch out for.

PS: Meanwhile, a whisper campaign about a Chennai High Court notice to Ms Natarajan, Mr Ramesh's successor at the environment ministry, has already begun. As has speculation about which of the

Watch this space.

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