NEW DELHI —
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has overhauled his cabinet in a bid to repair the image of his government, tarnished by corruption scandals and complaints of poor governance. However, Rahul Gandhi, the son of Congress Party president, Sonia Gandhi, who is widely seen as a future prime minister, has not been named in the new cabinet.
The cabinet changes include the induction of seven new senior ministers and 15 junior ministers. Key portfolios such as oil and foreign policy were also reallocated on Sunday.
One of the major appointments is that of a new foreign minister - Salman Khurshid, who was earlier law minister.
A tweet from the prime minister’s office said the “road ahead is full of challenges. But this is a team, which I hope will be able to meet the challenges.”
The major challenge confronting the Congress-led coalition is its waning popularity. It hopes to win a third term in office in 2014, but public confidence in Singh’s government has been plunging.
“This is a government whose image has been battered not only on account of perception that it is extremely corrupt, but also because of the inability to control food inflation,” said Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, an independent political analyst in New Delhi.
The prime minister hopes the new faces will help him recover from charges of corruption and policy drift. He has called it a combination of youth and experience.
However, critics say Singh failed to allay public concerns about corruption with the new appointments. For example, the country’s new foreign minister faces allegations of graft in a charity run by his family.
Singh also hopes the younger team will breathe fresh energy into the government and push back against critics who called his outgoing cabinet of older officials out of touch in a country where two thirds of people are under 35.
The new young ministers are close to 42-year-old Rahul Gandhi, son of Congress Party President, Sonia Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi is widely seen as the heir apparent and is tipped to be the future prime minister, if the Congress Party wins the 2014 elections.
However Rahul Gandhi, whose entry into a senior government post has long been expected, did not join the ministry.
Prime Minister Singh says Gandhi wants to concentrate on strengthening the Congress party ahead of the elections. There is also speculation that Gandhi could become the working president of the party.
Political analyst Thakurta says Gandhi appears to be a reluctant politician.
“His actions have not conveyed an impression that he is serious about building a political career for himself and time alone will tell whether he and his associates and those who are close to him would be able to improve the working of the government or improve its image," said Thakurta. "I am somewhat skeptical whether he will be able to do that.”
The immediate challenge for the Congress Party is regional elections to be held in two states - Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh - later this year. A good showing for the Congress Party would boost it ahead of the 2014 general elections, but analysts say it faces tough opposition.