(Buzz, faces, winners and losers)
It was a big bang reshuffle, the last spirited rejig by beleaguered Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to infuse a dash of youth in his largely grey-haired cabinet, a defining makeover that will shape poll fortunes of the ruling coalition in 2014.
The buzz of excitement and anticipation was more than palpable in the chandeliered Ashoka Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan as ministers, officials and special invitees started pouring in around 11 a.m. Since most of them were not in the know of things, the guessing game went on as to who was in and who was out, with the insatiably curious media collaring every politician who could give the slightest clue.
The faces and the eyes, the mirror of the soul’s secrets, however, told their own story. Anand Sharma, who was widely touted as the next external affairs minister, looked unusually subdued and downcast. Salman Khurshid looked confident and casual.
The youth brigade was more than animated. Sachin Pilot, one of the youngest ministers, blithely said, “Mangal hai (all is well)”, indicating that he was up for an upgrade. In the end, he got independent charge as minister of state for corporate affairs.
In the sea of faces, Shashi Tharoor, MP from Thiruvananthapuram who had to resign two years ago due to a controversy involving the Indian Premier League cricket, stood out with his calibrated exuberance and energy. His wife Sunanda beamed, leaving not much to imagination.
Manish Tewari, the suave spokesperson of the Congress party, sported a confident smile and walked in with his wife.
When Congress chief Sonia Gandhi entered the hall with her son and party general secretary Rahul, the speculated prime minister-in-waiting, the assembled ministers stood at attention, making it clear who was in charge.
In the end, the ceremonies played out by the clock, with the bugle announcing the arrival of President Pranab Mukherjee, followed by a rendition of the national anthem.
For “Pranab babu”, as the president is fondly called, it was a special moment. He has taken oath as minister in the same hall many a time, and now it was his turn to swear-in the new members of the council of ministers. Re-charged after the Durga Puja, the president was a picture of poise and grace as 22 ministers took oath in different languages.
Manmohan Singh, who was till recently excoriated as a failure and a tragic figure, exuded the energy of the second generation of economic reforms he launched recently. He smiled and looked relaxed. “It’s a blend of youth and experience,” he said later.
The winners had a lot of celebrate, and the losers will now have to bet on the the 2014 poll roulette.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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