» Election » Cabinet expansion raises eyebrows

Cabinet expansion raises eyebrows

By Renu Mittal in New Delhi
May 27, 2009 23:12 IST
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Move over Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and the other states where the Congress performed creditably. It is the turn of big leaders from the very small states to grab coveted Cabinet portfolios.

In a move that has stunned the party and even its detractors, the Congress leadership has not seen it fit to appoint a single Cabinet minister from Uttar Pradesh, which has given the party 21 MPs.

Ignoring the contribution of large sections of Muslims from North India who decisively voted for the Congress, Dr Manmohan Singh's new Cabinet will not have any Muslim face from any of the mainline states. The notable exceptions are Ghulam Nabi Azad and Farooq Abdullah.

Describing it as a "patchwork" cabinet, a senior Congress leader said even the 2004 Council of Ministers was better.

Another leader, who has seen many cabinet formations, said it was formed on the basis of personal likes and dislikes with political vision playing a minimal role. The impression has gained ground that powerful leaders close to either 10 Janpath or Rahul Gandhi have worked overtime to keep the competition out and to keep their rivals in their place. Many favourites have been promoted at the cost of senior Lok Sabha MPs who won many times.

A case in point is that of Vilasrao Deshmukh, the former Maharashtra chief minister, who is not an MP but who has "powerful friends" both in New Delhi and the corporate world. He will be sworn in a Cabinet minister and is likely to get a plum ministry. He was removed from Maharashtra after the Mumbai terror attack for poor leadership qualities. But now the party thinks it should reward him with a Cabinet berth in the name of promoting a Maratha and "putting Sharad Pawar" in his place.

The party has promoted another Maratha Prithviraj Chavan from MoS to MoS (Independent charge), it has brought in two Dalit cabinet ministers Sushil Kumar Shinde and Mukul Wasnik, but the party has once again ignored the Muslims of Maharashtra.

The leadership has brought in two Cabinet ministers from Himachal Pradesh, one from the Lok Sabha Virbhadra Singh and one from the Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma, from a state where the Congress won just one seat.

It has brought in 6 ministers from Kerala (20 MPs); brought in 3 Cabinet ministers from Karnataka from where the party won only 6 Lok Sabha seats; brought in 2 Rajya Sabha MPs as Cabinet ministers from Punjab though the party won 9 Lok Sabha seats and has to face an Assembly election. Dr M.S.Gill has been promoted a Cabinet minister, much against the wishes of the party's Punjab unit.

From Rajasthan, where the Congress won 21 seats out of 25, the Congress has given only 3 ministers of state in the second round making it one Cabinet, C.P.Joshi, and three MOSs, Namo Narain Meena, Sachin Pilot and Mahadev Khandela who is from Sikar and has come under the Jat quota after Sish Ram Ola was dropped.

In a major faux pas, the Congress has made only one minister of state from Orissa, Srikant Jena. And Jena was a Cabinet minister in the Deve Gowda government when he was with the Janata Dal. He later joined the Congress and this time won the Lok Sabha seat. He has been rewarded by being demoted from Cabinet minister to minister of state, in what is
probably the first instance of its kind.

Another big development is the decision to retain Jyotiraditya Scindia as a minister of state, with no promotion for him, as was being expected. He is said to have been the victim of a senior leader from Madhya Pradesh who is powerful in New Delhi these days. The same leader ensured the elevation of Kantilal Bhuria as a Cabinet minister, bringing him on a par with Kamal Nath.

But the biggest story of the expansion is Uttar Pradesh. No Cabinet minister has been brought from the state. Salman Khursheed and Sriprakash Jaiswal have both come in as ministers of state with independent charge while the ministers of state are Jitin Prasad, R.P.N.Singh and Pradeep Jain. While Prasad was a minister, RPN Singh and Pradeep Jain are both first timers and from the young quota. All the other senior leaders of UP like Beni Prasad Verma from the state have been ignored.

To counter Mayawati, the Congress has not brought in any Dalit from the state. There was expectation that Salman Khursheed would be brought in as a Cabinet minister and even Beni Prasad Verma but the perception is that Salman's "friends" in the Congress party ensured that there was no cabinet entry from UP to stop Salman from getting into the cabinet
league of the big players.

The fact that Jairam Ramesh, Salman Khurshid, Jaiswal and others have been ignored at the cost of Mukul Wasnik, Subodh Kant Sahay,, MS Gill. Kantilal Bhuria and Pawan Kumar Bansal, all of whom have been promoted as Cabinet speaks volumes of the direction and political vision which the party is seeking to project.

For a party which won a big mandate of 206 seats, the leadership's choices and blueprint for the road ahead can only be rated as disappointing and poor. That is what the current mood in the party portrays.

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Renu Mittal in New Delhi