Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh brought seven new faces into his Cabinet yesterday in the biggest reshuffle since his re-election as he tried to revive his party’s flagging fortunes before polls due in 2014.
Singh named Salman Khurshid, 59, as a replacement for the 80-year-old foreign minister S.M. Krishna as he attempted to dispel the image of a struggling government, which recently lost its majority.
However there was no place at the Cabinet table for Rahul Gandhi, the 42-year-old scion of the Gandhi-Nehru political dynasty, who once again turned down an offer to enter government.
Speaking to reporters after a swearing-in ceremony for the new ministers, Singh said he expected his new team to remain in office until the next elections.
“Probably this is the last reshuffle,” the prime minister said at the presidential palace in New Delhi. “I don’t see early elections. Elections will be held in due course.”
The law ministry went to Ashwani Kumar, a ruling Congress party loyalist. The other newcomers include Rahman Khan who was named as minority affairs minister, Ajay Maken who becomes housing minister and Dinsha Patel who is now mines minister.
They will be joined by Pallam Raju, who was promoted to human resources development minister. Harish Rawat was placed in charge of water resources and Chandresh Kumari was appointed culture minister.
Singh named parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal as new railways minister, a post which became vacant following the pullout of a regional ally, Trinamool, from the ruling coalition last month.
The government has been mired in scandal in recent months, most notably by revelations surrounding the tender process for state-owned coal mines.
Economic growth, which had been touching double figures at the beginning of Singh’s second term, has now slowed down to about 5 percent.
Trinamool’s pullout in protest at a series of economic reforms means the government is now a minority administration. It is in no immediate danger of falling as it has secured the support of another regional party that is outside the Cabinet.
Analysts doubted that yesterday’s ministerial overhaul would do much for Congress’ fortunes when the country votes in an election scheduled for the spring of 2014.
“The Cabinet reshuffle is a wake-up call which has come too late, just as the big-ticket reforms have come too late,” said Ajay Saha, a political scientist at Delhi University.
Khurshid, who is a Muslim, said the new ministers were expected to think “out of the box”.
The new foreign minister told reporters that he saw “great opportunities ... but also great challenges to peace and prosperity in our world.”
Singh confirmed that he had offered a Cabinet post to Rahul Gandhi, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather all served as prime minister, but the offer was declined.
“I wanted Rahul Gandhi in government, but he wants to strengthen the party,” Singh said.
Gandhi currently serves as a member of parliament and heads the youth wing of the main ruling Congress party.
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