| NEW DELHI
NEW DELHI Jan 11 India's Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh may reshuffle his cabinet this month,
government sources said on Tuesday, in a move that may reveal
how much support he is giving to some reformist ministers.
Singh, facing the toughest time of his second term in
office amid accelerating food inflation and corruption
scandals, needs to fill several vacancies, some which came
about as a result of the departure of ministers over graft
Singh could just make cosmetic changes to fill vacancies
or he could reshuffle some controversial ministers, such as
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.
Ramesh is seen as a reformist who has been criticised in
business and political circles for blocking major industrial
projects over green concerns. [ID:nSGE6A10FY]
The reshuffle could show the direction the government will
take, either to back reformist ministers or bow to political
expediency and industry pressures, in the run-up to important
state elections this year and a general election due by 2014.
"You could expect something by January 26," said a senior
government source who is not authorised to speak to the media
and declined to be identified.
Singh held a meeting on Saturday to discuss cabinet
changes and more meetings were likely in coming days, said
another government official.
Ruling Congress party spokesman Manish Tewari declined to
comment on the possibility of a reshuffle, except to say:
"Reshuffle is in the domain of the prime minister, he can do
it any time."
Any ministerial reshuffle will also need the nod of
Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, seen as the power behind
the government and regarded as further to the left than the
Ministerial vacancies have been created by the
resignations of Sashi Tharoor as junior foreign minister and
Andimuthu Raja as telecommunications minister, the latter over
a link to a $39 billion telecoms scam.
Several elderly and powerful ministers have been
criticised for scuttling new thinking in government,
frustrating efforts toward faster reform, such as opening up
the retail sector to foreign investors after a resounding
election victory in 2009.
Singh also needs to take into account the demands for
government jobs from an important ally, the DMK party, which
held the telecommunications ministry.
Media have reported Environment Minister Ramesh might lose
his job, as also could Roads Minister Kamal Nath's. Moving
Ramesh, however, could raise question over whether the
government was succumbing to pressure from industry.
"I don't think he will be touched because he is very close
to Sonia Gandhi," D.H. Pai Panandikar, head of private think
tank RPG Foundation, said.
In September, Singh said he would like to reduce the
average age of his cabinet, which is more than 64. Many
ministers, including Singh, are older than 70. [ID:nSGE68602J]
(Editing by Alistair Scrutton)