x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Indian ministers quit ahead of Cabinet reshuffle

A trio of senior Indian ministers resigned yesterday ahead of a Cabinet reshuffe aimed at improving the government's image.

NEW DELHI //Three senior Indian ministers resigned yesterday, ahead of an expected Cabinet reshuffle that is aimed at sprucing up the government's image, which has been muddied by a series of corruption allegations.

Since 2010, prime minister Manmohan Singh's administration has faced near-constant allegations of graft that have left the government scrambling to contain the damage rather than advance its legislative agenda and address the widening fault lines in India's economy.

Several senior government officials, including a former telecoms minister in the ruling coalition, are facing criminal charges of conspiracy over the alleged fraudulent allocation of second-generation cellphone licences to favoured companies.

The government has also recently faced allegations regarding improprieties in the allocation of India's coal reserves, tarnishing its reputation. It has consistently denied all accusations of corruption.

Today's expected reshuffle will aim to bring in fresh faces ahead of crucial state polls later this year and next year, as well as the federal elections in 2014.

Yesterday, information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni, social justice and empowerment Minister Mukul Balkrishna Wasnik and tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahai said at a news conference they have resigned from their posts.

Friday, India's foreign minister S M Krishna also stepped down, telling reporters a day later that he wanted to make way for "younger blood" in the government.

As part of the Cabinet reshuffle, Mr Singh is likely to fill up posts that are vacant after the Trinamool Congress party withdrew from the Congress Party-led federal coalition government and two ministers resigned following allegations of corruption.

Additionally, some ministers, who currently hold more than one portfolio, will be given charge of just one post, a person familiar with the matter said.

TV reports said Mahadeo Singh Khandela, a junior minister for tribal affairs, has also resigned. Mr Khandela couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

Observers say the government - now that it has introduced major reforms - is taking political steps to shore up its image ahead of impending elections.

The western state of Gujarat and northern Himachal Pradesh state go to the polls later this year, while four states will be up for elections next year before the federal polls due before May 2014.

Amid the corruption allegations and with economic growth slowing this year to below 6 per cent, a sense of urgency has become apparent in the government since mid-September.

It has taken much sought after economic measures such as opening up the retail and aviation sectors to more foreign investment to attract capital and also raised state-set diesel prices, despite huge protests from within and outside the government.

*Dow Jones