The day after the biggest reshuffle of the council of ministers in the United Progressive Alliance government’s second term was also a day of confusion and sulking.
Though S Jaipal Reddy took charge of his new ministry, that of science and technology, he did so with bad grace — he didn’t go to his previous office to hand over charge to his successor in the petroleum ministry, Veerappa Moily. All day, Reddy held meetings with colleagues from Andhra Pradesh, leading to speculation he might be considering a revolt against the change of his role, some believe, at the instance of corporate houses. However, he later claimed he didn’t know Moily would take charge at 11 am.
Moily was welcomed into his new office by the previous junior minister R P N Singh (who has now been shifted to the home ministry). Soon after he took charge, Moily drove to Reddy’s residence to mollify him.
Reddy also complained to Congress President Sonia Gandhi about how talk of the government being in the grip of manipulation by corporate houses was doing the rounds. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), too, took up the matter. “The government should explain why Reddy was removed and given an unimportant portfolio. Was there pressure from industrial houses,” asked BJP leader M Venkaiah Naidu. “It is now clear the Congress is insensitive to criticism and has no respect for probity in public life. In spite of serious charges against the ministers, some of them are retained and some are even promoted. The reshuffle is like a make-up before pack-up. This will not serve any purpose. These are cosmetic changes, but any amount of changes wouldn’t prevent the Congress from a miserable defeat,” he added.
Reddy wasn’t the only one unhappy. Jitin Prasada, who was yesterday named minister of state for human resource development and defence, was today divested of the defence portfolio. The post was given to Jitendra Singh, minister of state with independent charge for sports and youth affairs. A notification from President Pranab Mukherjee said on the advice of the prime minister, the portfolios had been reallocated. The government gave no reason why Prasada was divested of one portfolio.
Former minister of state from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Agatha Sangma said a letter she had written to the president was ‘misused’ to secure her resignation. Sangma, still in NCP folds, had earlier taken part in her father P A Sangma’s presidential campaign, which, her party claimed, violated party norms.
Amid the bad blood, details of the forces behind the elevations and demotions in the reshuffle began to emerge. Ashwani Kumar, now the law minister, was promoted at the insistence of PM Manmohan Singh, though his elevation saw resistance by the party. Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal would have been appointed the external affairs minister, had the government not felt it couldn’t let go of his legal and business expertise in the telecommunication ministry. Commerce Minister Anand Sharma was also considered for the job, but was felt to be lacking in diplomacy. Salman Khurshid was selected because of the additional weight his community brought to the job. M Pallam Raju was promoted as HRD minister at the insistence of Defence Minister A K Antony, who also backed the promotion of Suresh Kodikunnil as minister of state for labour and employment, a Dalit from Kerala. Party sources confirmed Rahul Gandhi’s influence in the reshuffle was limited.