Posted by: John Elliott | May 17, 2009

A Line-up for the Congress-led Cabinet – and its tasks

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.


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



  1. […] unkind, about his record in the past on this blog – see Bed and Bhai Runs Indian Aviation and (on ministerial jobs after the recent general election) , so I went to see him last week. I thought I should hear his views about why the merger has been […]

  2. Great post!

    Mani Shankar Aiyar has proved his mettle in Petroleum, Panchayati Raj and DoNER Ministries. He was rated one among the best performing ministers and an outstanding parliamentarian. I hail from Mayiladuthurai, his home constituency. He has resorted to honest politics all along. He has nurtured Mayiladuthurai so well, but unfortunately he has lost this election.

    Dr Singh should recognise his past services and re-induct in the new cabinet through Rajya Sabha.

  3. P.Chidhambaram (Home Minister). As a native of his constituency he should have won with huge margin or lost the election. I feel he does not deserve this victory. Anyhow, to complete the task and serve to form secured india.

    Rahul Gandhi (North East development) – With the kind image he has developed for him and the country expects, he would serve as NE Development minister. Since NE is always a hard man out of india he would play a better role to bring united feeling.

    Mani Sankar Aiyer (Foreign Affairs) since he has served in foreign affairs office for 15+ years.

    Lalu (Railways). I hope he was doing quite well in railways.

    Pranab – Petroleum

    Either ministers or junior ministers
    J Scindia – Highways and shipping
    S Pilot – Education
    M Deora – Law

  4. Hope you are being read by those who are currently negotiating the final list!

    Two thoughts: on Foreign Affairs surely the most pressing issue for India is to have a strategy and longer term view of its relations with Pakistan, rather than resorting to knee jerk reactions and short term initiatives? This is what is going to shape overall foreign policy for the next decade. Maybe Mani Shankar Aiyar would be a good choice: credibility as per his attempts on the joint pipeline project at Petroleum and with first hand knowledge of Pakistan. And isn’t it better to have a Rajya Sabha member as Foreign Minister rather than at Education which needs real political push on the ground? So maybe I would switch Pranab Mukherjee and Mani Shankar Aiyar in your line up and put PM at Human Ressources to shake things up.

    Secondly, if Rahul Gandhi is to be a future Prime Minister he needs to get some Cabinet experience now, however important it may be to keep up the good work within the Congress party.

    And last thought: I absolutely agree that Shashi Tharoor needs a reality check: politics is not just making speeches and seminar appearances! a bit of getting dust on the sandals will make him a more effective Minister when the time comes.

  5. I think Rahul should get Education. a) its a subject close to his heart, b) any policy changes would have an all India impact even if it is a state subject, and c) would give him a chance to show his vision and delivery attributes to wake up a moribund sector which was asleep thru all of Arjun Singh’s ageing leadership….but I do agree that his main plank should be to keep his work going on transforming and strengthening the roots of the Congress on the ground.

  6. the little knowledge of politics i now have can be accredited to such posts. i certainly can’t add to the discussion above.

    why then, the comment? well, i liked the way u put this:
    prime minister Manmohan Singh can now put his personal stamp on the cabinet formation, which he is planning now with Sonia Gandhi, the party leader.

    it’s not often we see people actually refer to him as the PM, and give him the due regard. i’ve observed journalists refer to Dr Singh without the desired amount of respect, and well, the way you put it, struck me as certainly a dignified way to look at the way our PM and Sonia Gandhi work 🙂


  7. This may be a “dream team” for John Elliot. But it ignores the realities of coalition politics in India. Leaders of coalition partners like Mamata, Pawar and Karunanidhi will ask for their pound of flesh, with demands for their nominees getting charge of “lucrative” economic Ministries.

  8. a) Chidambaram must stay with Home min to finish off the 100-day security agenda or his ”terror paper” details of which got lost with the shoe throw.

    b) M Damodaran or Montek for Finance.

    c) How about Nandan Nilikani for HRD? or someone really effective with great ideas in this , in my opinion most important ministry , India should pick ‘ education education education !’ slogan from Tony Blair.

    d)Mamta as India’s first lady defense minister in keeping with her street fighter style , also will further her national image and will bring world’s 2 biggest arm force under a woman ( lot of women will feel empowered).

    Don’t bring back Shivraj Patil at any ministry , he’s a total yes-man .

    Finally your comment ” developing a coherent foreign policy which India desperately needs”
    John please write an article on what do you think is wrong with India’s foreign policy? And what should be corrected.

    thanks Animesh – yes I will do that on foreign policy – maybe more than one article, fairly soon je

  9. Won’t Tharoor fit in particularly well in External Affairs? Then maybe Pranab can have Home and Chidambaram Finance?

  10. leave out praful patel ? for chrissakes . he was the only minister who had thethe skill to take on the commies, the unions and push thru airport modernisation etc etc. so he’s a good bet for any ministry looking at eco reforms.
    and i certainly would like tharoors intl. networking skills to be used – he’d be a good understudy to pranab-da.
    rangarajan would be a better nuanced fin. min than montek and scindia would bring good support to chids at Home.
    unfortunately, we’re going to have mamta the maverick as rail mantri unless the congress is magnificently munificent to lalu.
    but every ally will have a congressman as his junior. on that there wont be a doubt.
    i expect rahul if he does make it to the cabinet may opt for HRD or he may spend another yr or 2 in the party.

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