New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday carried out a much anticipated shuffle of his ministerial pack by elevating three junior ministers to cabinet rank and bringing in three new ministers of state in an exercise meant to shore up the image of his 19-month-old government buffeted by corruption scandals and charges of non-performance.
However, the changes were restricted largely to his Congress party and did not include any from his allies that form part of his United Progressive Alliance (UPA), other than the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
There were also no changes in his core team - Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.
No minister was dropped, but some, like Murli Deora (corporate affairs) and M.S. Gill (statistics and programme implementation), were obviously downgraded. Deora and Gill earlier held the petroleum and natural gas and the sports and youth affairs ministries, respectively.
President Pratibha Patil administered the oaths of office and secrecy to the new ministers at the Ashoka Hall in Rastrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace.
Salman Khursheed, Praful Patel and Sripraksh Jaiswal were promoted as cabinet ministers, taking the number of ministers in the cabinet to 34.
In the significant reshuffle, Khursheed got water resources with additional charge of minority affairs. Patel got charge of heavy industries and public enterprises and Jaiswal retained his portfolio but got promoted because of his good work.
The entrusting of coal and water resources portfolios to cabinet rank ministers reflected the importance of such important resources to the national economy.
Vayalar Ravi, the overseas Indian affairs minister, got additional charge of civil aviation, a possibly temporary responsibility, as another round of ministerial changes are expected after the presentation of the annual fiscal budget next month.
Ashwani Kumar (science and technology, earth sciences, planning and parliamentary affairs), K.C. Venugopal and Beni Prasad Verma are the new ministers of state sworn in. While Ashwani Kumar and Beni Prasad Verma have been union ministers before, Venugopal, a lawyer and a first-time MP, has only been a minister in Kerala.
Verma, who got steel, also got independent charge as minister of state, along with Ajay Maken, who is the new sports and youth affairs minister and K.V. Thomas, who got independent charge as consumer affairs, food and public distribution minister of state.
With this, the Manmohan Singh ministry will have 78 ministers - 34 cabinet ministers and 43 ministers of state. This is the first expansion of the UPA II government, battling a public perception that it is mired in corruption and indecisiveness.
The ministerial changes were preceded by several rounds of consultations between Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
The government, inching towards the half-way mark of its five-year term, has been plagued by issues of governance, reflected mainly by its inability to curb rising prices of food and fuel and political corruption that has made even industry leaders write letters seeking the prime minister's "urgent" intervention to check the "governance deficit".