Key Changes to Manmohan Singh's Cabinet

Jul 12, 2011

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday announced marginal changes to his cabinet, retaining
key ministers in core policy areas as the embattled government struggles with policy paralysis and major corruption scandals.

Avoiding a major cabinet reshuffle of the Congress party-led coalition government is likely to disappoint investors who had hoped for new blood to tackle poor governance and high inflation, and want economic reforms to catalyse growth.

Following are details of key personnel changes.

In a surprise move, the influential and maverick Jairam Ramesh was moved to the rural development ministry from environment, where he took a strong stance in blocking multi-billion-dollar industrial projects over green concerns.

With a reputation as a blunt policy-maker, the silver-haired Ramesh reaffirmed India's commitment to bolstering nuclear power plant construction following Japan's nuclear crisis, brushing off anti-nuclear protests.

He differed with Singh on several policy decisions, including on clearance for South Korean firm POSCO's proposed $12 billion steel mill. The prime minister has said he had pressured Ramesh to change several decisions.

Ramesh is close to Congress party president Sonia Gandhi and will be expected to help drum up crucial grassroots support amongst India's rural electorate ahead of akey election in Uttar Pradesh, the country's most populous state, next year.

His ministry is in charge of implementing a rural jobs scheme, which costs nearly 1 percent of India's GDP and has been criticised for being inefficient, but which has been popular amongst Congress' rural
voters. Analysts cite this scheme as the single biggest reason for the government's re-election in 2009.

Ramesh's move is seen as bringing an efficient administrator to a ministry that has long been neglected.

Natarajan, a spokeswoman for the Congress party, is seen as a loyalist of Sonia Gandhi. She was last a minister 13 years ago and unlike Ramesh, is not expected to differ on policy issues with the prime minister.

Analysts say the 57-year-old Natarajan will bring in a more measured style to the ministry, and hope this will remove a key obstacle to the granting clearances for coal mining, setting up power plants or building factories.

As the government grapples with a multi-billion dollar telecoms licensing graft scandal, Salman Khursheed, former corporate affairs minister, takes on a potentially important role in steering a
police investigation into the massive fraud, a move sorely needed to restore government credibility.

Analysts say Khursheed, trained as a lawyer, will need to better articulate the government's positions to the Supreme Court as it grapples with rising public anger at a string of scandals ranging from the
Commonwealth Games last year to telecoms.

A member of the ruling Congress party, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) native began his career in the office of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in the early 1980s. An Oxford graduate, he is an amateur playwright and stage actor.

Close to Sonia Gandhi, Khursheed is seen as a key player in the party's campaign to rebuild its strength in UP. Congress needs to rebuild itself in the state if it is to lessen its reliance on coalition allies. It has been a minor player in UP for over two decades now, and the state is controlled by  Mayawati, the leader of the former untouchable castes, who has often held the balance of power in parliament.

Moily, former law and justice minister, becomes the new corporate affairs minister. A senior member of the ruling Congress Party, his power base is in Karnataka state, the capital of which is Bangalore.

Known for his occasional public gaffes, he takes on corporate affairs at a time of discontent amongst foreign investors at India's failure to embrace economic reforms including simplifying land acquisitions for investment and further opening up India's potentially lucrative retail sector to goliaths
like Wal-Mart.

Dinesh Trivedi, a politician with Trinamool Congress becomes railways minister, replacing his party chief Mamata Banerjee, who resigned in May to become chief minister of West Bengal.

Trivedi comes to a ministry which has long been used by politicians to distribute largesse in the form of new trains, engine and coach factories, and jobs.

Critics say this has rotted infrastructure and caused a safety neglect, underlined by two major railway accidents this month.