Rasheeda Bhagat

Cabinet dusting takes years off team

RASHEEDA BHAGAT | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on October 29, 2012

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid…some hard work lies ahead to restore India’s image in the global arena. — R.V. Moorthy

Even though the Cabinet reshuffle did not send any shock waves down our mango-spines, it has ushered in a younger and fitter team of ministers.

Unlike in filmdom, no magic wands or silver bullets exist in the real world. Hence disenchanted Indians were not exactly waiting with bated breath for the much-touted Cabinet reshuffle of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday.

The one announcement that could have caused an exciting ripple in the rather boring waters of the present administration would have been the crown prince Rahul Gandhi entering the Cabinet. But it was known well in advance that the Congress’s Prince Charming — who now seems to have decided to graduate from a stubble to a permanent beard — has decided to wait it out. It is now certain that he will get a clear-cut No. 2 position in the party. Anyway, only fools, within and outside the party, think otherwise.

But even though the Cabinet reshuffle did not send any shock waves down our mango-spines (this word has such amazing possibilities!), the Manmohan Singh-Sonia duo — or should one say Manmohan-Sonia-Rahul triumvirate — did send out some definite signals. In a clear thumbs-down signal to anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal, the prestigious post of External Affairs has gone to Salman Khurshid. He had been targeted and threatened by Kejriwal on charges of misappropriation of funds meant for the physically challenged.

Khurshid’s test

The suave and articulate Khurshid gets a high-profile ministry which will demand not only his undivided attention but a combination of the grind and charm required to project India’s stated position and interests to not only staunch friends and strategic partners but also to dicey and crafty neighbours. And in the last variety, we have a neat little list topped by Pakistan, with the mighty China flexing its rather considerable muscles from not too far behind.

The scam-a-day record of the UPA Government has done phenomenal damage to India’s image in the international community, and it will take a lot of hard work and some serious manoeuvring for us to regain the prestige and admiration we were commanding “as an emerging economic giant” on the world stage barely a couple of years ago.

Despite the few gaffes he had committed on world fora — images of S.M. Krishna reading out the wrong speech at the United Nations meet not so long ago must be giving nightmares even now to his close aides — the outgoing External Affairs Minister had indeed brought some dignity, even though of a staid variety, to his post. But then there is only that much the human body can do at 80.

That he was not bowing out too happily was made evident by the octogenarian when he met the media after handing in his resignation prior to the reshuffle. Apparently he had even made it clear to the Prime Minister that he was leaving behind a ministry that remained untainted by scams. About the speculation that he was being sent back to Karnataka politics where the revolt by B.S. Yeddiyurappa had regenerated Congress hopes, Krishna said he was going to “take it easy”, and added that anyway youth was “the flavour of the moment” and he was making way for “younger blood”.

Younger blood, pedigree

His successor, Khurshid, has both younger blood as well as pedigree, being the grandson of former Indian President Zakir Hussain. His closeness to the Congress high command came to the fore when the Anna Hazare movement began and he was sent by the Government to hold discussions with the erstwhile Team Anna on the Lokpal Bill. Even as the Government cocks a snook at Kejriwal and India Against Corruption by giving him this prestigious post, the right thing to do for Khurshid and wife Louise, who hold positions in the NGO under the scanner, will be to clear their names and come clean on what really happened.

Other significant aspects of the reshuffle include the Congress getting back the crucial Railway Ministry after 17 long years, if you don’t consider C.P.Joshi holding the fort for about a month after Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress stormed out of the UPA Government. We can expect the long-overdue hike in passenger fare rates now that not only youth but also economic reforms are the flavour of the season!

As this is the season of the US Presidential election and many of us have been watching and getting bowled over by the articulation and debating skills, at least comparatively speaking, of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, it is good to see people like Khurshid, Ashwani Kumar and Manish Tewari getting important posts, apart from both Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot getting independent charge of Power and Corporate Affairs, respectively.

Tewari’s exhausted lungs… exhausted from long hours of debating and defending on television channels the often indefensible words and deeds of his colleagues… should get a well-deserved rest with his getting independent charge of the Information and Broadcasting ministry.

Resourceful Nath

But apart from dusting up the Cabinet, and making it look a little younger and fitter, Singh and Sonia have made another smart move. And that is to give Parliamentary Affairs to Kamal Nath, who has both political acumen and a reputation for “managing” things, including floor management in Parliament. If this Government is to indeed last till 2014, it can’t do so without facing several stormy sessions in Parliament. It is during those uncomfortable times that Kamal Nath’s bag of skills and tricks, as well as easy camaraderie across parties, will come in handy for the survival of the Congress-led UPA in the coming months.

One more point. A Muslim heading the External Affairs ministry is bound to also lend a fine cosmetic touch to the Singh Cabinet. While brownie points can be scored when dealing with the Arab and other Islamic countries, Khurshid will necessarily have to walk the tightrope when it comes to Pakistan.

We, the wonderful people of India, have managed to polarise this country along communal lines so completely that it won’t be too long before some fringe elements raise the issue of a Muslim at the helm of the MEA indulging in a “sell-out” to Pakistan.

So what if Krishna himself credits the Prime Minister with creating the right climate for “improved” ties with Pakistan!

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Published on October 29, 2012
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