New Delhi: The new Manmohan Singh team, which is expected to pull the UPA out of troubled waters following allegations of massive corruption, ineffective governance and policy paralysis, is already facing tough questions over its credibility. While Salman Khurshid, who has been facing allegations of siphoning off funds for the differently-abled has been elevated to the External Affairs Minister, other new ministers like K Rahman Khan and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury also face serious charges.
The new Minority Affairs Ministry, K Rahman Khan, could prove to be a big embarrassment for the government as he is alleged to have been involved in the Karnataka Wakf Board scam. The 73-year-old Karnataka leader was embroiled in the Rs 2 lakh crore scam in which misuse and encroachment of Wakf properties in the state had caused the loss to the exchequer. The Karnataka State Minorities Commission, which conducted its study in other districts, also including Gulbarga, Bangalore Urban, Bangalore Rural, Ramanagaram and Koppal, had alleged misuse of properties, encroachments, illegal disposal, mismanagement and fraudulent acts committed by erstwhile heads of the Wakf Board, elected representatives, politicians and others. Khan was also a member of Joint Parliamentary Committee on functioning of Wakf Boards and the one on Securities Scam.
There were allegations that Khan along with other members of the Board of Directors of the Amanath Co-Operative Bank Ltd of Bangalore siphoned off Rs 102 crore from the bank. But he was given a clean chit and a team led by Rahman Khan is once again running the Bank.
While Salman Khurshid has been elevated, other tainted names like Rahman Khan and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury have also been inducted.
Controversy also surrounds the new Minister of State for Railways, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. Chowdhury, a known baiter of Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee, was implicated in 2005 in the twin murder of two restaurant owners in Murshidabad. Although he was cleared of all charges in 2007, he is currently out on bail in another case against him, the murder of a Gram Panchayan leader in Burdwan. Before joining active politics, Adhir suffered imprisonment in various criminal cases during the previous Left Front regime in the state. He even contested the 2006 Assembly polls from behind bars.
Chowdhury has now said that he will resign if criminal charges are proven against him. "The Congress cannot grow in Bengal if we bend to TMC. I am challenging the TMC that if they can find a single criminal case pending against me, I am ready to resign right now," Chowdhury said.
The UPA is also facing flak for making Salman Khurshid the External Affairs Minister. Salman Khurshid, who was the Law Minister, took charge as the External Affairs Minister despite allegations of corruption. Asked if his appointment despite the controversy surrounding him over charges of financial bungling by a trust run by him and his wife was a clear indication of the confidence he enjoyed of the government and the party, he said "it is for others to judge" and added that one cannot "surrender" before those who just make allegations. He is taking over the ministry at a time when India is assuming greater global stature and the developed world, reeling from the global downturn, is looking at New Delhi afresh as an emerging economic power. India Against Corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal tweeted, "Jaipal Reddy - known to be honest - kicked out. Salman Khurshid - corrupt - promoted. That's UPA (sic)."
Questions are also being raised over why Jaipal Reddy was shunted out of the Petroleum ministry. Jaipal Reddy was shunted as the Petroleum Minister and made the Science and Technology Minister during Sunday's Cabinet reshuffle. Many allege that Jaipal Reddy has been removed for pleasing Reliance. "I think from the post that Jaipal Reddy has been given, it is clear that the government is unhappy with the manner in which he worked," BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi said,
"There were reports in the media that Jaipal was dropped under pressure from industry. The Prime Minister must explain to the people why Jaipal was suddenly removed," BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu added. Arvind Kejriwal also questioned the move. He tweeted, "Why did Jaipal Reddy lose his job? For resisting Reliance? Oily Moily will now work as per Reliance? So, LPG and power prices set to rise? (sic)"
The Cabinet reshuffle, which emphasised on youth and loyalty, has also been drawing flak from within the UPA's own camp. The Samajwadi Party has slammed the decision to elevate what it calls tainted ministers and also that no ministers from Uttar Pradesh were inducted. "No senior leaders from UP have been made ministers. In fact, tainted ministers have been elevated. Salman Khurshid has become the External Affairs Ministers and one minister who is named in the coal scam has been promoted," Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav said.
Congress's own General Secretary Digvijaya Singh is also not pleased with the low representation given to his state Madhya Pradesh in the union cabinet. "Sonia Gandhi and the PM must have given these decisions a lot of thought. Yes we were a little disappointed in Madhya Pradesh but our focus now is to prepare for the general elections," Digvijaya Singh said. There is also no representation in the Cabinet from the eastern and northeastern states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Assam, Sikkim, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura.
While on one hand there are several states that see no representation in the Cabinet, on the other hand there are states from which many ministers have been inducted. The UPA has roped in more faces from Andhra Pradesh at a time when it is grappling with the Telangana agitation. The induction of six names from Andhra Pradesh has taken the number of ministers from the state in the government to 10. The three new faces from Andhra Pradesh are - Kotla Surya Prakash Reddy, a three-time MP and son of former CM K Vijaybhaskar Reddy, Kruparani Killi, a first time MP and belonging to backward Kalinga subcaste and actor-turned politician Chiranjeevi, who merged his party Prajarajyam with the Congress. Two of the new faces are from Telangana, Sarve Satyanarayana and Balram Naik, both of whom, political observers say, have been rewarded for being loyal to the party and not embarrassing it on the Telangana issue. Meanwhile, Pallam Raju, who has been the minister of state for defence since 2006, has been elevated to the Cabinet rank.
Kerala's representation at the Centre has also gone up to eight with the induction of Shashi Tharoor and Kodikkunnil Suresh. Shashi Tharoor has made a comeback and is now Ministers of State Human Resource while Kodikkunnil Suresh was inducted as the Minister of State for Labour & Employment.
While Manmohan Singh's new faces the tough task of giving the UPA government an image makeover before the 2014 Lok Sabha election, it seems that the Prime Minister may have to answer even more questions now with the decisions taken during the Cabinet reshuffle.
(With additional information from PTI)
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