Islamabad, Wednesday, January 19, 2011
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Inter -Ministerial row forces Singh to reshuffle Cabinet
Finance Minister developed serious differences with Home, Defence Ministers | Mukherjee refused to approve finances for various Defence purchases

From Christina Palmer

NNew Delhi – An acute inter-ministerial row has forced Indian Prime Minister to introduce a massive reshuffle in his cabinet and the said reshuffle of the Union Council of Ministers is scheduled to take place this evening evening, reveal the investigations of The Daily Mail. Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh amid speculation that a reshuffle of the Union Council of Ministers is on the cards. The Daily Mail’s investigations indicate that a few months ago, an order landed in North Block that all Empowered Groups of Ministers (EGOMs) would be serviced out of the Cabinet Secretariat. In effect, this meant moving out secretarial work from Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s office as he heads most of the EGOMs and GOMs. It’s learnt the order came after these groups drew criticism from various ministers — some even part of them — for drifting aimlessly.

These investigations reveal that at one stage, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself asked about their status. It was decided to have the Cabinet Secretariat play a more central role to ensure better monitoring and record-keeping. Of course, this clearly meant that the PMO was at odds with the Finance Ministry. Mukherjee has been the UPA’s chief troubleshooter, dominating Cabinet meetings and handling the difficult relationship with Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress. The argument was that his load was being lightened.

The Daily Mail’s investigations reveal that the plan to set up a National Intelligence Grid, a counter-terror measure aimed at giving a list of security agencies access to a range of databases from your finances to communications. Home Minister P Chidambaram drafted security expert Raghu Raman but when the plan reached the Cabinet Committee on Security, Mukherjee objected mainly on the grounds of privacy.

These findings further indicate that after a back and forth that lasted for months, a “watered down” version was approved. As this took so long, the proposal to set up a National Counter Terrorism Centre is yet to take off though the UPA promised to create it in its very first year. Last heard, it is set to make it to the CCS anytime though officials are keeping their fingers crossed.

These investigations reveal that during the last year, the Home Ministry was keen on inducting the Armed Forces into Maoist zones in a measured manner. But Defence Minister A K Antony refused to let the military get involved, backing the Army’s insistence that it could not enter into such a fight without promulgation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in those areas. Finally, it was decided that the military would not be in the forefront of the fight but would provide the necessary assistance.

However, these Investigations indicate, when it came to the disputed valley of Jammu and Kashmir, the Defence Ministry resisted any amendment to the AFSPA. The Home Ministry piloted a set of changes to make the Act more humane, but it is yet to make any headway. Sources said the PMO is keen about this and wants to consider district-wise removal of the Act. But Antony is believed to have dug his heels in after consultations with the Armed Forces. Even recently, the Home Minister brought this up in the CCS but made no breakthrough.

The Daily Mail’s investigations further indicate that the Indian Defence Minister has had his share of run-ins with the Finance Minister too, the most telling one being the row over the purchase of a mid-air refueller worth $2 billion. A European consortium led by French major Airbus won the deal but it was held up by the Finance Ministry which wondered why the Russian bid, cheaper, was rejected. It pointed out that the refueller currently available with the Air Force is Russian. The Defence Ministry was of the view that the bidding process was a composite affair taking into account all aspects, including pricing. But Mukherjee backed his officials and the deal was later re-tendered. Antony was not the only one upset. It’s believed that a few weeks before this decision, the Prime Minister had met French President Nicolas Sarkozy and confirmed the decision on the contract. He had gone by the Defence Ministry’s decision.

The Daily Mail investigations indicate the Indian establishment believes that the foreign affairs was the one area where the Prime Minister was expected to sail smoothly but whether it be improving ties with Pakistan, managing those with China or taking forward the partnership with the United States, he’s hit rough weather. Consider Pakistan, the failure of Indian government’s foreign policy emerges strongly as it has still failed to take off the process of peace talks with Islamabad. External Affairs Minister S M Krishna’s visit to Islamabad illustrated this. A week earlier, Chidambaram had gone to Pakistan and delivered a hard message, asking for Pakistan to deliver on the trial. His trip was meant to make progress on the peace front. However, the coordination did not quite work with Home Secretary G K Pillai pointing the finger at ISI, a day before Krishna’s departure. The uncalled-for move by a very senior official of the Ministry of Home Affairs derailed the entire process of restoring peace.

The Daily Mail’s findings indicate that Delhi made the attempt to repair the demage that it earned at Islamabad because of the unexpected remarks of the Home Secretary Pillai, in New York on the margins of the UNGA. This time the Indian delegation purportedly had the green signal to agree to talks on all issues. All New Delhi wanted to ensure was no structural similarity to the composite dialogue. But due to the interference of top officials of Rsearch and Analysis Wing (RAW), this opportunity was also lost.

On the question of pending defence agreements with the US, sources say, the PMO tried to work on modified versions to somehow make the Defence Ministry change its mind ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit. The MEA was with PMO on this, but Antony refused to oblige. The agreements are still pending.

The sources say that such state of affairs has prompted Manmohan Singh to bring about a reshuffle in his cabinet for the smooth functioning of his government and to ensure good governance. However it is not known that how much support he has gained from Party leader Sonia Gandhi for Changing His top Ministers.

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