Change marks new portfolios in PMs political balancing act

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: May 29 2009, 06:40am hrs
Except for a handful of ministers from his previous government whose portfolios he did not change, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday opted for a major reshuffle, handing out new slots to a majority of his Cabinet colleagues and signalling the change that he wanted to bring about in his second innings.

Kamal Nath will now head the ministry of road, transport & highways; Virbhadra Singh will take over the steel ministry; Vilasrao Deshmukh will take charge of heavy industries & public enterprises; Ghulam Nabi Azad will oversee the health ministry; and Anand Sharma will move over to commerce & industry.

Prime Minister Singh has also entrusted law to Veerappa Moily, I&B to Ambika Soni, labour & employment to Mallikarjun Kharge and HRD to Kapil Sibal. The portfolios of the DMK representatives were as expected with MK Azhagiri getting chemical & fertilisers, A Raja IT & communications, and Dayanidhi Maran textiles.

Ministers who will continue in their previous portfolios are Murli Deora (petroleum), MS Gill (youth affairs & sports), Jaipal Reddy (urban development), Sushil Kumar Shinde (power) and Vyalar Ravi (ministry of overseas Indian affairs). Praful Patel continues with civil aviation and Prithiviraj Chavan, as minister of state (independent charge), will handle the same portfolios of personnel & PMO. He, however, has been given added charge of science & technology and parliamentary affairs.

Jairam Ramesh, who was MoS in the commerce ministry, now gets independent charge of environment & forests, while Krishna Tirath has been entrusted with women & child development, earlier held by Renuka Chowdhary. Salman Khurshid has the important ministry of corporate affairs, besides additional charge of minority affairs.

The Union council of ministers was expanded earlier in the day with the induction of 59 ministers at a swearing in ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, attended among others by vice-President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Thursdays exercise takes the strength of the council of ministers to 79, including the PMthe same strength as the previous UPA government.

The Congress has a lions share of ministerial berths, with more than two-thirds of the members belonging to the party.

Allies add up to 19 ministers, of which the DMK and Trinamool Congress have seven berths each. The NCP, led by Sharad Pawar, had to be content with three ministries while the NC and IUML have one ministry each. DMK inductees will take charge of their respective ministries only on Monday as they left for Chennai to seek the blessings of party president M Karunanidhi.

That the Congress leadership had faced some difficulty in finalising the entire list of portfolios was evident when it had to continue with consultations even after the swearing-in ceremony on Thursday morning. Sonia Gandhi, along with Prime Minister Singh and her political secretary Ahmed Patel, held more three rounds of discussions after the oath-taking. Singh can still add three more members to his team as the constitutional cap is 82.