Coming up, Manmohan-Sonia plan to rejuvenate UPA

PM and Cong president, are working on a cabinet reshuffle to give a facelift to the UPA govt.

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi are working on a cabinet reshuffle and important legislative measures to give a facelift to the two-year-old United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government that has been badly hit by corruption scandals, well-informed party sources say.

With Manmohan Singh returning from a six-day tour of Africa Saturday night, the revamp operations will begin soon. These are also expected to include a brainstorming session for the party, the sources say.

"Any talk of slowdown in the Congress or the government is incorrect," Congress leader Mohan Prakash told a news agency.

Another leader said, "The party has been able to put behind the season of scandals and look forward to a new action plan."

"The worst impact of the scandals was in the Tamil Nadu polls, but West Bengal, Assam and Kerala saved the day for UPA," he said referring to the assembly elections.

The minor cabinet reshuffle will find a railway minister, a post vacated by Mamata Banerjee who is now West Bengal chief minister. Her party colleague Mukul Roy is being seen as the natural successor.

Minister of State for External Affairs and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) nominee E. Ahamed is hopeful of a promotion. An IUML leader said this comes after the party`s sterling performance in the Kerala assembly polls. IUML is a key ally in the state`s new United Democratic Front government.

A party leader said a major reshuffle can also happen before the monsoon session of parliament, scheduled to begin early July.

The government is also planning to introduce major legislation in the monsoon session, the sources said.

While the Land Acquisition Bill will address the problems of farmers, the Food Security Bill will help the poor and weaker sections and the anti-graft Lokpal Bill aims to satisfy the middle class and civil liberty supporters, a Congress MP said.

There are also plans to introduce the Prevention of Communal Violence Bill, which will address the concerns of minorities and migrant groups like people from north Indian states living in Mumbai.

Another source said the Congress plans a brainstorming session in cooler climes - Mount Abu is the tentative venue - before the monsoon session of parliament.

Several steps for energising the party, including making some ministers step down for party work on the lines of the Kamaraj Plan, will come up in the "chintan bhaitak", the insider, who did not wish to be named, added.

The Kamaraj Plan of 1963 was initiated by then Congress president K Kamaraj, who proposed that senior leaders resign from ministerial posts in the Jawaharlal Nehru government and devote time to party work. It came soon after the Chinese aggression as Kamaraj felt the party was losing touch with the masses.

On the administrative front, the government is filtering the names of competent and clean officials to hold key posts. The ball has been set in motion with the appointment of Ajit Kumar Seth as cabinet secretary. There will be new incumbents in the posts of home secretary, finance secretary, foreign secretary and chief vigilance commissioner (CVC).

"This should give a new look to the administration. And the government would take care not to repeat the mistake of appointing controversial officials like ex-CVC PJ Thomas," a party leader told a news agency.

Many are also awaiting measures on economic policy, the forte of Manmohan Singh. Speeding up work on the general services tax, divestment, reforms in retail and banking sectors is likely, they say.

On the foreign policy front, the government will try to move forward on the dialogue with Pakistan, close on the heels of Osama bin Laden`s killing there by US forces.

The government will also be "open to make the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir meaningful," a party leader said.

The advantage of the Congress and UPA II is they do not have much to lose in the assembly polls in the next two years, says political analyst VK Rajmohan pointing out that only two of the nine states going to polls are ruled by the party.

"That makes the Manmohan Singh government and UPA relaxed and stable, though there are serious problems in states like Andhra Pradesh and Bihar," Rajmohan told the news agency.

However, BJP spokesman Nirmala Sitharaman feels no "patchwork or administrative gimmick can save the UPA".

"The government has lost all credibility because of corruption scandals. It is known for its inefficiency leading to huge price rise and other miseries."


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