Andhra Pradesh got the lion’s share in the reshuffle of the Union council of ministers, in recognition of the fact that it had contributed the largest complement of MPs in 2009 from a single state (33), and that if this performance was not repeated, the Congress was unlikely to return to power in 2014.
This rejig was a Congress show. For the first time in eight years of the UPA coalition, its electoral partners were kept out (barring the Nationalist Congress Party, which got one). The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam was asked but it declined to be part of this exercise. Given that the alliance is in a somewhat precarious position in the Lok Sabha, inexplicably no independent MP was drafted as a minister to secure his support.
The highlights lay in the fine print and in the changes made in the middle and lower order players. R P N Singh, minister of state for petroleum, was moved to the home ministry. The incumbent there, Jitendra Singh, got independent charge of the ministry of youth affairs and sport. K H Muniyappa was also promoted from minister of state (railways) to being given independent charge of the micro, small and medium industries portfolio. Bharatsinh Solanki was given independent charge of drinking water and sanitation, hived off from Jairam Ramesh’s portfolio of rural affairs. S Jagathrakshakan from the DMK was moved to the new and renewable energy portfolio from information and broadcasting. Jitin Prasada was moved to defence and HRD from roads & highways but continued to be minister of state. Purandeswari was given the meatier commerce portfolio. Rajeev Shukla was given additional charge of planning.
It was clear from these changes that Manmohan Singh was laying down a new crop, by training middle-level ministers to assume more responsibility in the future. But regional imbalances remain. Goa and Jharkhand don’t have ministers.
Below are some of those who have never been ministers before, along with some number crunching about the vital statistics of the council of ministers.
REWARDED AT THE UNION APEX
Chandresh Kumari Katoch
Chandresh Kumari Katoch, 68, has been made a Cabinet minister in the Union government for the first time. She hails from Rajasthan - her father was the erstwhile head of the Jodhopur royal family —but shifted to Himachal after marriage, becoming an MLA in 1972 and a deputy minister there in 1977. Her second term in the Himachal Assembly began in 1982 and she became a minister of state there in 1984 for some months, then getting elected late that year to her first Lok Sabha term. She also served one term in the Rajya Sabha, from 1996. In 2003-04, she was a cabinet minister in Himahcal. From 1999-2003, she headed the Congress party’s national women’s wing. In 2009, she was elected to her second term in the Lok Sabha, from her first home, Jodhpur in Rajasthan.
K Rahman Khan
K Rahman Khan, 73, deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha over 2004-12, is currently in his fourth term in the Upper House. A prominent face in the Muslim community, he has been sworn as a full-ranked cabinet minister handling the minority affairs portfolio. Khan is a long-time member of the Congress, starting his career in the Karnataka legislative council in 1978; he was there till 1990. He has chaired the Minorities Commission in his home state and was briefly Union minister of state, in 12004, for chemicals and fertiliser.
Manish Tewari, 47, has been stoutly defending the Congress party as its official spokesman for quite a while; he is also a member of the MPs panel probing the contentious 2G spectrum case. He’s been associated with organisational activities of the Congress party for about three decades, beginning with the party’s students’ wing. He was national head of the students’ wing from 1988-93. He also headed youth wing of the Congress from 1998-2000. Son of an MP, he was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time from Ludhiana in 2009. His long record of service to the party has been rewarded with not only inclusion in the council of ministers but also being given independent charge of the portfolio of information and broadcasting.
K Chiranjeevi, 57, a popular movie star from Andhra Pradesh, was also a known presence in Tamil, Kannada and Hindi films. After a long and successful career in films, he launched his own political party, Praja Rajyam, in 2008 and contested nearly 115 seats in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly elections in 2009 but could manage to win only 18, becoming one of the MLAs. However, the party, which began in opposition to the ruling Congress, finally merged with the same party early last year. Chiranjeevi was given a Rajya Sabha seat earlier this year and now the first-time MP has been made a minister of state holding independent charge.
Deepa Dasmunsi, 52, is the wife since 1994 of Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, party leader from West Bengal and former cabinet minister. Her husband suffered a massive stroke in 2008 and went into coma from which he is yet to emerge. A film actress before her marriage, she was elected a member of the State Legislative Assembly in 2006. In 2009, she was elected to her husband’s Lok Sabha seat of Raiganj. She is known as a baiter of the party’s erstwhile coalition ally, Mamata Banerjee, now the state chief minister. Dasmunsi has now been made minister of state for culture.
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, 56, three-time Member of Parliament from Berhampore in West Bengal, has considerable clout in Murshidabad district. A school dropout at the age of 15, he gradually built a reputation as an aggressive leader, for taking on the ruling Left Front’s strongarm tactics in kind. He played a crucial role in mobilising the Congress party organisation for both Pranab Mukherjee’s electoral victories as a Lok Sabha MP. When he contested for the Berhampore seat in 1999 (he’d become an MLA for the first time in 1996), the seat hadn’t been won by the party since 1951; he won against all expected odds and has repeated the performance twice. He’s also been a vocal critic of the ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal. He will take over as Minister of state, railways.
An MBA from Wharton, he says politics “comes naturally” to him, being the son of late Congress leader Rajesh Pilot. Passionate about his work, he tried to make the India Posts division of the communications ministry more efficient. “People say, it is a must that if you do choose politics as a career, you have to be prepared to serve the people - one must always remember, you are answerable to the people of India,” says Pilot. This is probably why he endorsed the verdict of the Khap Panchayats that those who marry in the same gotra should be considered outcastes: in other words, that tradition trumps everything else.
Jitin Prasada has a long political lineage in Congress from Uttar Pradesh, dating back three generations. A former Youth Congress chief, he has also worked as an All India Congress Committee secretary. Prasada is one of the select few who are part of Rahul Gandhi’s inner circle. He raked up a controversy for allegedly kicking protestors who waved black flags at the Congress scion during the UP Assembly election campaign this year.
Jyotiraditya Scindia, son of the late Madhavrao Scindia, the Gwalior royal scion, has studied at The Doon School, Harvard and Stanford. Scindia has, like his father, nurtured Gwalior with devotion. How he will turn around the power ministry remains to be seen.
Pawan Kumar Bansal
Pawan Kumar Bansal, the new railways minister, is a relaxed man. He almost never loses his temper, no matter what the provocation and he often complains that he is so accessible, reporters ‘always drag the story out of me’.Bansal has been in the Lok Sabha for four terms, is unfailingly polite to colleagues and although the opposition often didn’t let Parliament function during his term as parliamentary affairs minister, the BJP and Akali Dal both think highly of him and rated him a good minister. Bansal is a trained lawyer comes from a business family, and understands the fundamentals of profit and loss, something not all his predecessors in the ministry were much into. He speaks plainly and is likely to take hard decisions, even if they are not popular.