Railways returns to Joshi, Sibal gets crucial law ministry

FPAshwani Kumar in New Delhi on Saturday. Renuka Puri

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Saturday gave additional charge of the law ministry to Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal and handed Railways once again to Road Transport and Highways Minister CP Joshi, a day after Ashwani Kumar and Pawan Bansal resigned in a blaze of controversy.

Political circles interpreted the choices as indication that Singh may not go in for another cabinet reshuffle as has been speculated, at least immediately. As a result of the DMK's exit in March and the resignations on Friday, there are now 10 vacancies in the council of ministers, and the leadership will have to carefully consider all political side-effects and reactions before effecting a rejig.

The choice of Joshi indicated that the PM and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, during their meeting preceding the resignations on Friday, had chosen not to consider closely the political merits and demerits of other possible candidates. Joshi is non-controversial, is perceived to share a good rapport with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, and handled Railways for a month after Mukul Roy of the Trinamool quit.

The choice of Sibal on the other hand may have been the result of very few options available to Singh — the only alternative being I&B Minister Manish Tewari who, despite having been effective in his ministry, is handicapped by his lack of experience.

The new law minister will have the task of strategising the government's defence in the coal blocks allocation case which will come up before the Supreme Court in July, and in which Prime Minister Singh is facing attacks from the opposition. Sibal, one of the sharpest legal minds in the cabinet, had been brought in as telecom minister earlier to defend the PM in the 2G spectrum case.

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