Indian PM to shake up cabinet ahead of 2014 polls

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October 27, 2012

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was expected to revamp his cabinet on Sunday to try to revive the flagging image of his beleaguered government ahead of a general election due in early 2014.

October 27, 2012

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was expected to revamp his cabinet on Sunday to try to revive the flagging image of his beleaguered government ahead of a general election due in early 2014.

Media reports said Singh was likely to promote younger ministers to key posts in his three-tier ministerial council in the rejig while Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty, was tipped by many to enter the cabinet.

The new ministers are expected to be summoned to the president's palace for a swearing-in ceremony in late morning ahead of an official announcement on their portfolios.

Foreign minister S.M. Krishna, a stalwart of the main ruling Congress party, announced his resignation on Friday before three other cabinet members declared Saturday that they were standing down to clear the decks for the anticipated reshuffle.

The 80-year-old Krishna, whose political career stretches back nearly half a century, told reporters that he wanted to make way for younger colleagues.

"The whole idea behind the resignation is that the flavour of the season is that youngsters must take over the reins of responsibility and I felt that it was time up for me to make way for younger blood to take over," he said.

India's 70-year-old Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni and Social Justice Minister Mukul Wasnik followed suit.

Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahai, who is embroiled in a scandal involving the sale of state-owned coalfields, also met Premier Singh to submit his resignation, the Press Trust of India reported.

Singh's coalition government lost its parliamentary majority last month after a key ally, the Trinamool Congress, quit over a series of market reforms.

Having secured the support of a regional party which does not sit in cabinet, the government is in no immediate danger of collapsing.

With Trinamool no longer part of the government, the new entrants are all expected to be from Congress which is led by Rahul Gandhi's mother Sonia, who remains the country's most powerful politician.

Asked about possible additions to cabinet, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma told AFP: "This is something that only the prime minister and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi knows."

Rahul Gandhi — who is the son, grandson and great-grandson of Indian premiers — has repeatedly turned down invitations to join the government but many analysts believe the pressure on him will be too much to resist this time.

The media-shy bachelor currently serves as a member of parliament and head of the Congress party youth wing.

While Congress emerged as the largest party in elections in the last two elections, Singh's government has been mired more recently in a string of corruption scandals and economic growth has slowed to around five percent.

Shubha Singh, a Delhi-based analyst, said the reshuffle was a last chance to persuade voters that the government had not gone stale.

"I think he is trying to give a younger, newer look to his cabinet," Singh told AFP.

"Krishna's departure brings down the average age of his cabinet and with elections just one and a half years away, the prime minister must offer an effective government."

Singh himself is expected to stand down at the elections in the world's largest democracy.


 

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