Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, has reshuffled his cabinet in a bid to overhaul his government’s image ahead of state and national elections taking place over the next 18 months.
Seven new ministers and 15 junior ministers took the oath of office, at a brief ceremony on Sunday to mark the changes aimed at bringing in younger faces to the cabinet.
“Sonia Gandhi has put her people in place, Gandhi is involved as she is president of the ruling party, she has influence over the prime minister, Manmohan Singh.”
– Narayanan Madhavan, Hindustan Times
The most notable appointee was Salman Khurshid, who is the new foreign minister, as Singh undertook the biggest reshuffle since his 2009 re-election.
Khurshid, 59, replaces the 80-year-old SM Krishna, while his post as the law minister goes to Ashwani Kumar, a spokesman in the prime minister’s office told the AFP news agency.
Five senior ministers had resigned over the weekend to allow the introduction of new faces in the ministerial line-up.
Speaking to journalists after the swearing-in ceremony, Singh said he expected that his new team would remain in office up until the next general election which is due in spring 2014.
“Probably this is the last reshuffle,” Singh said at the presidential palace in the capital New Delhi.
The long-awaited changes gained urgency after the Congress Party-led coalition government was hit by a wave of corruption scandals.
The revamp also filled several vacancies after a key ally opposed to recent economic reforms quit the coalition.
Narayanan Madhavan of the Hindustan Times told Al Jazeera that Sonia Gandhi in her capacity as president of the Congress Party had a big say in the appointments.
“Sonia Gandhi has put her people in place, Gandhi is involved as she is president of the ruling party, she has influence over the prime minister, Manmohan Singh,” said Madhaven.
However, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, Sonia’s son, was not part of the new cabinet.
Party leaders said Rahul would concentrate on reviving the fortunes of the party before the general election.
A scion of India’s politically powerful Nehru-Gandhi family, Gandhi is the son and grandson of two prime ministers.
He is often known as India’s prime minister-in-waiting, but so far has held no government positions.
Singh’s government has been hit by charges of corruption and lethargy, even with provincial elections due in 11 states in the coming year.
Several ministers are facing corruption charges stemming from scandals over the hosting of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the sale of mobile phone rights and the allocation of coal fields that auditors say lost the country of billions of dollars.