Following the Congress Party’s astounding election victory at the head of the United Progressive Alliance, prime minister Manmohan Singh can put his personal stamp on the cabinet formation, which he is planning now with Sonia Gandhi, the party leader.
He has much more authority than when he formed the last cabinet in 2004, and is not cluttered with so many allies, so has a real chance to choose quality and performance-potential, rather than having to reward bounty-seekers with lucrative posts.
On the broad economic/social front, the government needs able and committed ministers who, in addition to dealing with the financial crisis, will address what one might call non-headline reforms such as education, health, infrastructure, and the environment as well as the usual headline subjects such as foreign direct investment, public sector privatisation and divestment, and financial sector reforms.
A new industrial policy is also needed to accommodate the needs of the poor instead of focusing primarily on big business and mega projects.
Among the new ministers there will be a focus on minorities, and on young MPs such as Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasada and Milind Deora (all in their 30s), though most of them will be in number two positions.
Here’s some ideas, and what I’ve been hearing, of who might be chosen (jobs last time in brackets).
I’ve drawn a line below between jobs which are sure to go to Congress MPs and those that might be open to political allies – though the allies have, as I said, far far less clout than last time.
There are a few gaps – send your suggestions – click comments at the bottom
FOREIGN AFFAIRS – Pranab Mukherjee (as now) – he’s tipped for this.
HOME – Palaniappan Chidambaram (as now) – he’s tipped for this – with a map on handling terrorism promised in 100 days
Or swap those two – Mukherjee would be a politically friendly and effective Home Minister – while Chidambaram’s intellect and energy could be put to developing a coherent foreign policy which India desperately needs
FINANCE – Montek Singh Ahluwalia (Planning Commission) – to bring a reformist’s focus – Manmohan Singh would like him, though Mukherjee (Finance Minister early 1980s) is said to want the job.
Support Ahluwalia with an experienced politician as minister of state – maybe Prithviraj Chauhan (minister of state Prime Minister’s Office).
HUMAN RESOURCES – Kapil Sibal (Science) – tasked to bring the same momentum to this key ministry, which includes education, that he brought to science and technology
DEFENCE – A.K.Antony (as now)
COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY – Kamal Nath (Commerce and Industry) though he hopes for a big move
Or put Nath in Defence, Sibal in Commerce and Industry (tv programmes are tipping him for this) and bring Mani Shankar Aiyar (Petroleum then Panchayat Raj), who has lost his seat, into Human Resources with a Rajya Sabha seat.
RAILWAYS – Jyotiraditya Scindia (Telecoms junior minister), whose late father Madhavrao Scindia was a famous railways minister – unless Mamata Banerjee, Trinamool Congress has to have it.
RURAL DEVELOPMENT – Rahul Gandhi is tipped for this because it’s his subject – combine it with Panchayat Raj – or Mani Shankar Aiyar.
POWER – Jairam Ramesh (Industry and Power junior minister and key election strategist).
AVIATION – S Jaipal Reddy (Urban Development) to use his vast government experience to bring some order to this chaotic influence-peddling sector
HIGHWAYS AND SHIPPING – Sushil Kumar Shinde (Power) – to put some energy back into the mismanaged sluggish highways programme.
TELECOMS – Sharad Pawar (Agriculture) – good for wheeler-dealing
AGRICULTURE – A.K. Antony (Defence) – if not in Defence – a clean politician though not a great decision-maker
SPORT – Salman Khurshid (not an MP last time), unless M.S.Gill (Sports) continues – though Rahul Gandhi is being tipped for this– his father Rajiv Gandhi organised preparations for the Asian Games in 1981-82.
HEALTH – ENVIRONMENT – LAW – PETROLEUM – COMPANY AFFAIRS and OTHERS – not allocated
Candidates I would leave out
RAHUL GANDHI, despite the possible posts above – he has said he wants to continue to focus on the Congress Party transformation so let him do so for a couple of years – it’s a priority.
LALU PRASAD YADAV (Railways), because his party has only four MPs and is not very effective, but Sonia Gandhi likes him so he may have to have something, maybe Railways.
SHASHI THAROOR – the ex-United Nations new MP from Kerala because he’s hot for the trot and should learn the ropes first for a couple of years.
PRAFUL PATEL and as many DMK MPs as possible because of poor performance in the last government, notably in aviation, highways, and telecoms.
This post is also on www.ft.com/world/asiapacific/india
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