NEW DELHI, India, Feb. 14, Reuter: Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, quashing speculation about a snap general election reshuffled his cabinet on Sunday.
Gandhi did not switch key ministers but made 16 changes to complete the team most likely to lead his Congress (I) Party into National polls due by December next year.
He also replaced the Chief Minister of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh States, Congress strongholds riven with internal party feuding.
“Logically, big changes rule out a midterm poll,” a relaxed Gandhi told reporters after the ministers ‘were sworn in by President Ramaswamy Venkataraman.
“Do you think we will be ready for a snap poll when we have made so many changes and before they stabilize?” he said.
It was Gandhi’s 10th cabinet reshuffle since he swept to power in an election landslide in December 1984 on a wave of sympathy after the assassination of his mother Indira Gandhi.
Three Congress wins in State elections since November had persuaded some Gandhi advisors to push for a snap election.
Gandhi, 43, was battered last year by financial scandals, party defections and election defeats in three states. The failure of last ‘summer’s monsoon has pushed up Prices of staple foods and cut economic growth.
Gandhi has gone on the offensive against critics and Congress beat off strong leftwing challenges to win polls in the three northeastern states of Nagaland, Tripura and Meghalaya.
Some advisers believed political and economic conditions could only worsen, and called for early parliamentary elections. Gandhi said he wanted to fill
Cabinet vacancies before Parliament reopened next week. He expanded his council of ministers from 49 to 60 ministers, 16 of whom have cabinet rank.
He did not switch major port folios and kept controversial Sikh Buta Singh as Home (Interior): Minister.
Congress members said Gandhi appeared to be preparing his team for the 1989 polls. But some of them criticized the changes. As cosmetic and too small to boost the party’s fortunes substantially.
Gandhi brought former foreign minister Dinesh Singh back into the Cabinet as water resources minister ——a key post in view of the drought and one which the Prime Minister had hitherto held himself. And Ram Niwas Mirdha, Minister of State for Textiles, was given full Cabinet rank.
In an effort to stop party feuding and erosion of Congress support in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, Gandhi dropped the Chief Ministers of both states and brought them into his Cabinet.
He sent Communications Minister Arjun Singh to Bhopal to replace Madhya Pradesh leader Motilal Vohra who became health and welfare minister.
Bihar’s Bindeshwari Dubey became law and Justice Minister.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Har Kishan Lal Bhagat took additional responsibility for information and broadcasting, in place of Ajit Panja, whose running of the State owned radio and television networks has come uncer much fire.
Environment and forestry minister Bhajan Lal was moved to his minister of State Z.R. Ansari took over full charge of his former ministry.
Civil aviation and tourism minister Jagdish Tytler, another close Gandhi aide, became minister of State for labor with Cabinet rank, and urban development minister Mohsina Kidwi, the only woman holding Cabinet rank, took over his tourism portfolio.
Rajiv Gandhi (Prime Minister also External Affairs, Atomic Energy, Science and Technology, Space Personnel and Administrative reforms); Buta Singh (Home Affairs); Krishna Chandra Pant (Defense); Narain Dutt Tiwari (Finance and Commerce); P. Shiv Shankar (Planning and Program Implementation); Bindeshwari Dubey (Law and Justice); Har Kishan Lal Bhagat (Parliamentary Affairs, Information and Broadcasting); Mrs. Mohsina Kidwai (Urban Development, Tourism); Ziaur Rahman Ansari (Environment and Forestry); Makhan Lal Fotedar (Steel and Mines); J. Vengal Rao (Industry); Vasant Sathe (Energy, Communications); Dinesh Singh (Water Resources); Motilal Vohra (Health and Welfare, Civil Aviation); P.V. Narasimha Rao (Human Resources Development); Bhajan Lal (Agriculture and Rural Development); Ram Niwas Mirdha (Textiles);
Ministers of State with independent portfolios:
Sukh Ram (Food and Civil Supplies): Jagdish Tytler (Labor); Brahm Dutt (Petroleum and Natural Gas): Mahdav Rao Scindia (Railways); Rajest Pilot (Surface Transport).