Cabinet reshuffle: Eight new faces, 7 replaced

Jairam Ramesh is the new Rural Development Minister, while Jayanthi Natarajan has replaced Ramesh at the Ministry of Environment and Forest.

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday inducted eight new faces into his government, axed seven non-performers and juggled a few portfolios in a bid to improve the sagging image of his government but most analysts dismissed the changes as cosmetic.

Despite murmurs, the `big four` -- Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, Defence Minister AK Antony and Home Minister P Chidambaram -- have been left untouched in the exercise to draft a new team Manmohan.

The 78-member council of ministers -- the same in number -- includes 62 from the Congress and 16 allies.

Of the 13 ministries that dominantly deal with India`s economy, changes took place only in three - steel and mines, corporate affairs, and railways, India`s biggest employer.

Among the major changes, Salman Khursheed takes over the law ministry from M Veerappa Moily, who moves into corporate affairs; Dinesh Trivedi of the Trinamool Congress takes over the railways; and Jayanthi Natarajan, the only Congress woman MP from Tamil Nadu, is the new environment minister.

She replaces the hyperactive Jairam Ramesh who gets elevated as a cabinet minister in the Ministry of rural development.
"This is the last reshuffle before we go to the polls (in 2014)," Manmohan Singh told reporters after the swearing-in ceremony.

"It reflects a balance necessary for the states of the union. Consideration of the efficiency, of continuity and all elements were taken into account," he added.

Veteran leader from Andhra Pradesh, V Kishore Chandra Deo, has been put in charge of Tribal affairs and Panchayati raj.

And Beni Prasad Verma of Uttar Pradesh has been made the cabinet minister in charge of steel ministry. He was the minister of state there.

Among those asked to go are DMK`s Dayanidhi Maran, who had put in his papers earlier after being linked to the spectrum scandal, and MS Gill, sports minister when New Delhi hosted the Commonwealth Games amid complaints of largescale corruption.
Only one of the seven dropped ministers, Arun Yadav, gets a place in the Congress hierarchy.

It was the second reshuffle in the Congress-led UPA government that took office for a second five year term in 2009.

N Bhaskar Rao, analyst at the Centre for Media Studies, echoed popular sentiment that there was nothing to cheer about.

"Some new talent has come in," Rao said. "But there is nothing else to say except that the environment ministry, which was being headed by a person who had been causing heartburn to many industries and their investors, has been shifted. Other than that there is no major change. "

Sudip Bandopadhyaya of the Trinamool Congress, the largest Congress ally in the government, makes his debut as minister of state for health and family welfare.

But his party colleague Mukul Roy has been relieved as minister of state for railways, a day after after he publicly ignored Manmohan Singh`s directive to the site of a train derailment site in Assam.

He, however, remains the junior minister in the shipping ministry.

The DMK figures nowhere. With both Maran and A Raja, who is in prison, out of the ministry, the party has only four faces in the government.

E Ahamed of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), which is pivotal to the survival of the Congress government in Kerala, is back as Minister of state for External affairs and also gets Human resource development (HRD).

The primary charge of the HRD ministry remains with Kapil Sibal, who also holds the communications and IT portfolio.

In a father-son swap, Congress leader Murli Deora is out of the cabinet. His son Milind is in as the Minister of state for Communications and IT.

Former Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has been shifted to the science and technology and earth sciences ministry.
Assam`s Paban Singh Ghatowar is minister of state with independent charge (Development of North Eastern Region). Other ministers of state are Congress` lone Lok Sabha member from Chhattisgarh Charan Singh Mahant (Agriculture and food processing); the high profile Rajiv Shukla (Parliamentary affairs) and the understated Jitendra Singh (Home), who is a close aide of party general secretary Rahul Gandhi.