Manmohan, A-Team sworn in

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: May 23 2009, 07:41am hrs
Manmohan Singh
As the Congress worked overtime to break the deadlock over ministerial berths with ally DMK, Manmohan Singh was on Friday sworn in as Prime Minister for a second consecutive term at the head of a 20-member team in the first instalment of government formation. An expansion could take place as early as Tuesday.

Pranab Mukherjee, Sharad Pawar, AK Antony and P Chidambaramalready ministers in the outgoing governmentwere among those who took the oath of office & secrecy, along with new entrants SM Krishna, Mamata Banerjee, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Veerappa Moily and CP Joshi.

Senior Congress leader Arjun Singh was dropped, while Hans Raj Bhardwaj, Saifuddin Soz and Sis Ram Ola did not figure in the first list. S Jaipal Reddy, Vayalar Ravi, Sushilkumar Shinde, Kamal Nath, Meira Kumar, Kapil Sibal, Anand Sharma, Ambika Soni, B K Handique and Murli Deora retained their places, with Sharma and Handique elevated to Cabinet rank.

While Arjun Singhs ouster was expectedFEs sister publication, The Indian Express, had reported as much soon after the Lok Sabha results came inCongress leaders said that by ignoring Bhardwaj in the first list, the leadership could have made known its displeasure over the way almost all his important decisions as law minister proved to be bad news for the government.

Be it the decision to allow Bofors case accused Ottavio Quattrocchi to first operate his bank accounts, which had been frozen, and, more importantly, favouring the withdrawal of the Interpol red-corner notice against him, or giving a clean chit to current chief election commissioner Naveen Chawla over allegations of political bias without bothering to wait for a report of the Union law secretary, the list of controversies that dogged Bhardwaj is long.

Commenting on the fact that the Congress leadership didnt deem it necessary to accommodate Bhardwaj in the first list of ministers, a senior Congress leader said, He may still make it as a minister in the next list... I think the leadership is trying to send a clear message through his exclusion from the first list, which is that perceived closeness to the leadership may not be enough to ensure appointment as a minister.

As for the other big name that didnt find mention in the first listArjun Singh--the last five years have been marked by frustrated ambitions and a diminishing stature. The man who once played an important part in the distribution of tickets had lost so much clout that he couldnt manage party tickets for either his son or daughter in the recently-held Lok Sabha polls.

Arjun Singh was commerce minister in the Rajiv Gandhi Cabinet of 1985, was chief minister of Madhya Pradesh twice, governor of Punjab in the heydays of terrorism when he put together the Rajiv-Longowal pact and member of almost all the important decision-making committees of the Congress.

Congress leaders say Singhs downfall can be ascribed to his poor health and his refusal to initiate much-needed reforms in the education sector, something the Prime Minister was very keen on. As HRD minister, Singh took on the PMO more than once, always ending in embarrassment for the government.