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Kota Neelima is the Political Editor of the Sunday Guardian.

PM-Sonia dispute led to damp reshuffle

he much-anticipated UPA Cabinet reshuffle turned out to be a damp squib as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi could not agree on which ministers should be dropped and who should be their replacements.

However, the announcement of another shuffle soon improved the temper at AICC, since drastic measures have only been postponed but not derailed. Both sides agreed to a status-quoist reshuffle for the time being in view of the crucial state elections this year and the upcoming Budget Session of Parliament.

While Ministers of Petroleum, Civil Aviation, Food and Sports have been replaced, Law Minister Veerappa Moily survived due to lack of "a proper vacancy" for his relocation. He was said to be keen on Human Resource Development, which is with Kapil Sibal, who has the additional charge of Ministry of Communications, vacated by DMK. However, Sibal refused to leave HRD.

Salman Khursheed was made in charge of Ministry of Water Resources with an elevation to Cabinet rank. Khursheed's Ministry of Corporate Affairs was given to outgoing Petroleum Minister Murli Deora, who has close connections to a particular corporate house. Deora's demotion was the surprise of the shuffle.

A move to "accommodate" Suresh Pachouri as Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office was thwarted by both the PM and party president. Kantilal Bhuria, Minister for Tribal Affairs, was to return to Madhya Pradesh as state party president, replacing Pachouri. However, there were already two contenders for the post in the PMO, Narayanswamy and new entrant Ashwani Kumar. Between the two, Narayanswamy was preferred as a good party-government bridge.

The other surprise was the shift in the portfolio of C.P. Joshi, who had been give rural development at the behest of Rahul Gandhi. Vilasrao Deshmukh, former Chief Minister of Maharashtra, has been given this responsibility despite the fact that, according to activist Kishore Tiwari of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, about 4,000 farmers committed suicide during the tenure of Vilasrao Deshmukh as CM.

With crude oil prices riding high globally, the new Petroleum Minister Jaipal Reddy could play a vital role in explaining domestic prices and inflation.

Deshmukh also has a record of protecting private moneylenders. About a month back, he was severely criticised by the Supreme Court for misusing his position when he was CM in preventing the police from registering a case against the family of a moneylender MLA for harassing debt-ridden farmers. Agrarian indebtedness is a leading cause for farmer suicides in Vidarbha.

The original complainant in the case, Sarangdhar Singh Chavan, speaking from Buldana in Maharashtra said, "Vilasrao Deshmukh is a messiah of moneylenders. He has been rewarded with a ministry that deals with welfare schemes for rural poor. Private moneylenders will now be emboldened."

Congress has been seeking charge of the food ministry to implement the ambitious food security bill. Though the party had often blamed Sharad Pawar to be the stumbling block, it is the Planning Commission and PM's Economic Advisory Council which found the bill provisions suggested by Mrs Gandhi's National Advisory Council to be impossible to implement. It is up to Minister of State K.V. Thomas, now with independent charge of food ministry, to find a middle path on the food bill.

In view of the concerted attack by the Opposition and the Budget Session of Parliament ahead, difficult portfolios have gone to articulate ministers.

With crude oil prices riding high globally, the new Petroleum Minister Jaipal Reddy could play a vital role in explaining domestic prices and inflation. In this direction, Reddy's first quotes were about not raising diesel prices. Vayalar Ravi, the new Civil Aviation Minister, has already started speaking about dialogue with employees' unions.

Ajay Maken, Minister of State with independent charge of sports, began by clarifying that legitimate Commonwealth Games dues will be paid. The Sports Minister will be in the limelight when the CAG report on the Games is made public.

The AICC is to be revamped shortly, sources say, including the reconstitution of Congress Working Committee. But with no exchange happening between the government and party, the scope of AICC reshuffle is expected to be limited.

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