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India's cabinet reshuffled to bring in a touch of youth

The embattled government of Manmohan Singh reshuffled its cabinet to elevate younger leaders in a bid to appeal to one of the world's younger electorates.

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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave his cabinet an overdue facelift on Sunday, bringing in younger ministers in a bid to breathe new life into his aged, scandal-tainted government ahead of state and federal elections.

The reshuffle, which has been on the cards for six months, may be Mr. Singh's last chance to significantly change the direction of his government and convince voters the ruling Congress party deserves a third consecutive term in 2014.

He rejigged about a third of his 30-member cabinet, and reshuffled a number of key portfolios, including, oil, foreign policy, railways, and justice. As part of the image makeover, he also brought in a raft of new, younger junior ministers who will not have cabinet-level posts.

Notably absent from the new names was Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has governed India for much of the 65 years since independence. Mr. Gandhi is expected to be the party's candidate for prime minister in the 2014 election but has so far shied away from a formal role in government.

Singh said after a swearing-in ceremony for the new ministers that he had wanted Gandhi in the cabinet but that the Congress party general-secretary wanted to work for the party. The party is headed by Rahul's mother Sonia Gandhi.

Several of the new junior ministers, however, are closely linked to the 42-year-old Gandhi, which could extend his influence in the council of ministers without directly exposing him to potential damage if the government's popularity fails to pick up.

Singh's shaky coalition has been paralyzed by infighting and policy drift for much of its second term, struggling to drive through major economic reforms long demanded by investors and business leaders even as economic growth has sharply slowed.

"The road ahead is full of challenges. But this is a team, which I hope will be able to meet those challenges," Singh said, according to a Tweet by his office.

Singh's elderly cabinet has also been seen as increasingly out of touch with the country's youthful electorate. Politicians in India generally reach senior positions late in life – a reflection of a traditional respect for elders.

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