New Delhi, Oct 29 (IANS) A day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave a fresh look to his government, most of the new ministers took charge and spelt out their agenda. But not everyone was impressed, with the Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav predicting an early Lok Sabha election.
There was also intense speculation that S. Jaipal Reddy had been eased out of the petroleum ministry due to corporate pressure. But the Congress veteran made it clear that Manmohan Singh had taken him into confidence before moving him to the science and technology ministry.
Amid mounting allegations of corruption and poor governance, the Congress is determined to put its house in order in the run up to the 2014 general election. The Sunday reshuffle is widely seen as a move in that direction.
But both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) said the reshuffle will fail to hide the failures of the Congress-led UPA II.
Both sought to pin down the government over the reasons for the non-controversial Jaipal Reddy's removal from the petroleum ministry.
Reddy dismissed allegations that he was unhappy with his new portfolio but refused to talk about his old charge.
"The prime minister took me into confidence about the change in my portfolio and that was enough for me," he told the media. "I have never in my life haggled or bargained for portfolios."
As many as 16 of the newly appointed and elevated ministers joined work Monday despite it being a restricted holiday on account of Balmiki Jayanti.
The cabinet ministers who assumed charge included Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, Law and Justice Minister Ashwani Kumar, Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister M. Veerappa Moily, Minority Affairs Minister K. Rahman Khan and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath.
Among the ministers with independent charge, Manish Tewari took charge of information and broadcasting, Jyotiraditya Scindia of power, Sachin Pilot corporate affairs, K.H. Muniyappa micro, medium and small enterprises and Bharatsinh Solanki of drinking water and sanitation.
The ministers of state were Kotla Jaya Surya Prakash Reddy and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury (railways) Jitin Prasada (human resource development), K.C. Venugopal (civil aviation), Kruparani Killi (communications and IT) and Ranee Narah (tribal affairs).
Bansal said the government was open to the idea of revising railway fares to improve services. But "the aim is not to earn profits", Bansal told IANS.
The Congress has taken charge of the railway portfolio after a gap of 17 years -- minus the short spell when C.P. Joshi of the party held charge of the ministry after the Trinamool Congress quit the government.
Bansal's comment drew an angry response from the Trinamool, which pledged to take to the streets if hiked railway fares hit "poor people".
Without referring to the government shake up, Mulayam Singh Yadav told Samajwadi Party workers in Lucknow that a new Lok Sabha election could be held soon.
The BJP, CPI-M, Samajwadi Party and India Against Corruption leader Arvind Kejriwal hit out at the government for elevating Salman Khurshid to the external affairs ministry despite corruption charges he faces.
Khurshid assumed office Sunday within hours of being sworn-in.
Kejriwal tweeted: "Jaipal Reddy - known to be honest - kicked out. Salman Khurshid - corrupt - promoted. That's UPA."
On Monday, new Petroleum Minister Moily said he would not keep things pending. "There is $50 billion worth of foreign investment waiting."
Tewari said his job was not to regulate the media but to ensure a level playing field for everyone.
Scindia termed power as an "extremely strategic and important" sector.
BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain described the reshuffle as an attempt by the Congress to divert attention from issues of corruption and inflation.
He also moaned that no one from the northeast figured in the cabinet.
"Tainted ministers have been promoted," Hussain said, in an apparent reference to Khurshid.