It was like a convoluted crime plot ending without identifying the murderer. It was a tale without a denouement, an exercise without a goal, a gesture without a motion.The seventh convulsion in Mrs Gandhi’s Council of Ministers which last fortnight led to an increase in its strength to 61 from,It was like a convoluted crime plot ending without identifying the murderer. It was a tale without a denouement, an exercise without a goal, a gesture without a motion.The seventh convulsion in Mrs Gandhi’s Council of Ministers which last fortnight led to an increase in its strength to 61 from 55, stared the millions of its bemused spectators in the face as just another barren game politicians play, outwardly to reassure themselves but in effect laying bare their own innate weaknesses and their native sense of insecurity.The reshuffle of September 2, involving seven of her 18 Cabinet colleagues, downgrading three crucial departments, hiring eight new hands, and firing two, came in the wake of months of nail-chewing speculation.Partymen claiming inside knowledge first prophesied changes around the third week of August, then pushed it forward to the last week. But Mrs Gandhi herself added her characteristic twist to the proceedings when, three days before the reshuffle, she remarked: “Talk of a reshuffle has become a permanent joke.” She was right, though in a way which she had not perhaps intended.The first thing that struck flustered observers was its all-embracing purposelessness. In a democratic set-up, periodic stirring up of the Cabinet serves the three-fold purpose of winnowing out the chaff, infusion of new blood, and keeping ministers in trim. Oddly enough, none of these purposes were served. Said an affected minister sardonically: “It’s the classic prescription of the pharmacist: shake the bottle before use, but it’s the same mixture.”After the portfolio switches, 27 of Mrs Gandhi’s ministers, or roughly every second member of the ministerial council, found himself in a new office, and addressing himself to new problems. Considering the fact that no reshuffle of such dimensions had taken place during the 33 months of her rule, it could well have marked a starting over. Yet it did not. With a rare cynicism she passed up this opportunity, exactly midway through her current tenure, to realise at last her 1980 poll-clinching slogan: ‘Elect The Government That Works’.advertisementLike the constant clatter of the shuttle on a loom, Mrs Gandhi’s ministers wove like patterns on a crazy quilt between the endless array of the capital’s bhavans. With not a single addition to the Cabinet, nor a single subtraction, the custody of the mamoth empires in the sarkar changed hands. The departments were split and fused together like the squares in a Rubik’s Cube.”Like the constant clatter of the shuttle on the loom, Mrs Gandhi’s ministers wove like patterns on a crazy quilt between the endless array of the capital’s bhavans. With not a single addition to the Cabinet, nor a single subtraction, the custody of the mammoth empires in the sarkar changed hands.”Only five new ministers of state and three new deputy ministers were sworn in: but their entry heralded a chain of changes in the combination of deparments. Of the 59 departments that are managed by secretary-level officials, 27 woke up the next day to greet at least one new minister. The pattern changed, but not the wool. It was a painfully elaborate exercise in shuttling and reshuttling the same jaded bunch.Endless Shuttle: The reshuffle was actuated by the resignation of Giani Zail Singh as home minister in the month of June. It made sense that the Giani’s berth would be filled by a senior Cabinet minister and an impression had gained ground that some minister with an untainted public reputation, such as External Affairs Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, would get the home portfolio. But Mrs Gandhi sprang a surprise even on the most determined gambler-against-odds when she named Prakash Chand Sethi, 62, the man who had only recently taken the flak for the controversial Kuo Oil deal (India Today, July 31), as the home minister.A chain reaction followed. The bumptious Ghani Khan Chowdhury, the erstwhile energy minister, moved up the ladder to replace Sethi in the more prestigious Railway Ministry. The energy portfolio, in its turn, was hitched on to the Petroleum Ministry. And, the petroleum minister, finding his plate too full, had to part with chemicals and fertilizers, which ultimately went to Vasant Sathe, the former information and broadcasting (I&B) minister.The orphaned I&B Ministry was promptly given to new entrant N.K.P. Salve, as a minister of state with independent charge. In the same sweep, however, Anant Prasad Sharma, the befuddled minister for civil aviation and tourism, lost his twin empire, which was bifurcated and parcelled out to the independent care of two ministers of state, Bhagwat Jha Azad and Khursheed Alam Khan.advertisementSharma hopped across to the far less glamorous Communications Ministry, while its beleaguered occupant, C.M. Stephen, moved over to the duller charge of shipping and transport, thus displacing its minister, Veerendra Patil, who moved over to the labour portfolio.Lower Levels: Around this scheme of musical chairs was built the sub-plot involving deputy ministers and ministers of state. It thickened with the delayed exit of S.S. Sisodia and Charanjit Chanana, ministers of state who had for five long months been on the firing line as their Rajya Sabha membership had expired in April without the party high command bothering to accommodate them.The Chanana-Sisodia tragedy was partially made light of by the inclusion of new persons , and the place-hopping, which had originally started as the innocent search for a new home minister, multiplied in magnitude like a dab of ink on a blotting paper.But the changes were not marked by any clockwork planning; on the other hand, they bore the stamp of tired minds trying to wrap up a job without any preparatory work. The gaffes were exposed slowly and by instalments, as newer changes were ordered on September 5 and September 11.”…the men in charge of most of the important portfolios were changing faster than patterns in a kaleidoscope. Thus the labour minister was changed six times, works and housing four times, education three times, tourism three times, civil supplies four times, railways four times, petroleum four times, shipping and transport four times and commerce three times. Even the sensitive Defence Ministry… witnessed four changes since 1980.”Some of the gaffes were quite ludicrous, typical clerical blunders. There was no apparent reason for the Coal Department to go to Narain Dutt Tiwari when his shoulders were overburdened with industry as well as steel and mines. So presto, days later it was withdrawn from him and hitched on to Shiv Shanker’s sprawling but homogenous empire of petroleum and energy.Far down the hierarchical ladder, Kalpnath Rai, deputy minister for parliamentary affairs, was upset as he suddenly found Delhi strongman H.K.L. Bhagat foisted over his head as minister of state. Rai, a burly ex-wrestler, burst into tears before Mrs Gandhi, and she tossed a pacifier into his mouth by way of the additional deputy ministership in the Industry Ministry.The holes in the blueprint kept exposing themselves with every passing hour. The last echo of the reshuffle actually died down nine days later when Mohsina Kidwai, the affable Uttar Pradesh MP and chief of the state Congress(I) unit, was sworn in as minister of state. With Kidwai’s appointment, the President’s office celebrated the cranking out of its 42nd notification of ministerial changes in 33 months: one change every 23 days. Said a minor cog in New Delhi’s mind-boggling bureaucratic wheel: “At this rate more ministers will pass through the ministries than tourists passing through India Gate.”Secret Moves: The changes, though signifying no bold departure from the past, were nevertheless shrouded in impenetrable secrecy. Only R.K. Dhawan, special assistant to the prime minister, was privy to the decisions and that too for the most practical of reasons: he had to type out the three-page official letter to the President. The Cabinet Secretariat was totally in the dark; so were the much-trumpeted independent advisers to the prime minister, including G. Parthasarathy, who heard the news on the radio.advertisementSo tight was the veil of secrecy that only two of the five new ministers of state and two of the three new deputy ministers were present at the brief swearing-in ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on September 2. Bhagat had in fact gone to attend a function at Raj Niwas, home of the Lt-Governor of Delhi, to welcome its new incumbent Jagmohan, when the news reached him and he had to rush in.Ramachandra Rath, the newly appointed minister of state for chemicals and fertilizers, had just locked up his MP flat on Pandara Road and gone home to Orissa, thus being obliged to be away from the swearing-in ceremony. Ashok Gehlot, who made it at the last moment, had been planning to leave for home the same evening.The secrecy was as if born out of diffidence. It seemed as though Mrs Gandhi was reluctant to disoblige anyone. She did not sack a single Cabinet minister, a benignness which is quite out of character, considering her record of dropping nine Cabinet ministers in the four years between 1971 and 1975.Even in the post-1980 period she had suddenly got tough and sacked two of her Cabinet ministers, Kamalapati Tripathi, the old and venerable father-figure from Uttar Pradesh and Vidya Charan Shukla, the debonair leader from Madhya Pradesh. But an inexplicable softness overtook her recently, preventing her from using the boot.Critical Views: A large section of the media dismissed the changes as an exercise in futility. The Indian Express captioned its strongly-worded editorial on the subject – almost predictably – as ‘A Permanent Joke’.The Statesman called the changes a “fatuous exercise” and wrote editorially that these “will not serve anyone any purpose”. Even a steadfast admirer of Mrs Gandhi like Inder Malhotra, resident editor of The Times of India, was moved to admit that “the exercise appears to have been without any clear pattern or purpose”.The appointment of Sethi as the home minister showed best the sign of the times. The Home Ministry, with its vertiginous labyrinth of powerful departments, including the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Intelligence Bureau, has always been a happy hunting ground for the party in power.Under Giani Zail Singh, the Home Ministry became a willing vehicle for carrying out even the smallest of orders from the Prime Minister’s Secretariat. Sethi is reputed to be a match for the Giani in his readiness to cooperate with the high command.Days later, Congress(I) circles, particularly those claiming inside knowledge, came up with piecemeal explanations for the reshuffle. The arguments that are being trotted out include:Mrs Gandhi chose Sethi as home minister precisely because he was under attack from the Opposition. This was her unique way of cocking a snook at the Opposition;with Sethi’s appointment, Mrs Gandhi also shuffled down two of her ministers who had proved patently incompetent, such as CM, Stephen and A.P. Sharma;she wanted to rap Vasant Sathe on the knuckles for his conciliatory gestures to the press on the Bihar Bill, though Mrs Gandhi prefers the relationship to stay generally embattled;she also wanted a second rung of ministers from the minority communities to come up, and thus she arrayed N.K.P. Salve, a Christian, and Mohsina Kidwai behind Stephen and Khan Chowdhury;the creation of separate departments for sports in the charge of Buta Singh non-conventional sources with C.P.N. Singh and environment under Digvijay Singh indicate new importance to these areas,she also intended to infuse young blood: hence, the choice of Ramachandra Rath as minister of state and Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ashok Gehlot as deputy ministers;that Rath, who has an independent power base in Orissa was being elected as an alternative to Chief Minister J.B. Patnaik; andthe choice of Delhi MP H.K.L. Bhagat was entirely in line with the boomerang-like return of Lt-Governor Jagmohan to the capital, both being intended to help the Congress(I) win the impending elections to the Delhi Metropolitan Council.Fair is foul, and foul is fair. A similar cynical reversal of values overtook Mrs Gandhi as she ordered the Cabinet changes. Gone was the principle of punishment-and-reward. Forgotten was the norm that men in public life should not only be clean but also appear to be so, and those who violated it should be at least removed from centre-stage.On the contrary, the reshuffle put a premium on inefficiency, on hamfistedness and on brazen disregard of values. It stood out in stark contrast to the standards set by the late Jawanarlal Nehru when he had accepted the resignation of his finance minister, T.T. Krishnamachari, after his name got involved in the notorious Haridas Mundhra scandal.But this stubbornness too was in character with her, as was this haughty, amoral and contemptuous rejection of accusations levelled at her team-mates by the Opposition. But what was totally out of character was the dithering over the final list of changes, the confusion and the moments of absolute indecision. For nine days, she kept on changing the list, playing with her Tweedledums and Tweedledees, and yet could not arrive at a final solution.Allocation of portfolios is a delicate exercise in two ways: choosing the personnel and then allocating the portfolios. Clustering of two portfolios in one ministerial hand is inevitable as there will always be more departments than ministers.But to select the allied fields, the ministries that can be connected through a symbiotic link, demands precise understanding of the Government. This time Mrs Gandhi attempted to re-cluster the portfolios, was successful in some cases, but failed in most others.Illogical Allocations: Petroleum, for instance, had become a gargantuan department in itself and thus its de-linking from chemicals and fertilizers was generally regarded as fully justified. Also logical was the yoking together of the twin departments of petroleum and energy, which, with the addition of coal, became a compact authority to decide on all matters pertaining to non-nuclear and non-conventional sources of energy. But down the line the re-clustering of other portfolios turned out to be a mindless clerical exercise.Thus, civil supplies and civil aviation got tagged together by their only visible link, the word ‘civil’; the same deputy minister was entrusted with both labour and rehabilitation; Rai, as deputy minister, was asked to lend his weighty presence to both parliamentary affairs and industries; C.P.N. Singh, as minister of state, was made answerable to two bosses, the prime minister herself as she retained the science and technology portfolio, and Shiv Shanker, as Singh’s other charge as minister of state for non-conventional energy sources came under him.It was one of the messiest misalliances of Central portfolios. Said Rai: “I’ve no problem; I can manage both.” Singh hastened to rationalise: “There is a thematic resemblance between science and technology on one hand and non-conventional energy sources on the other. This is more important than the fact that I’m under two ministers.”The bureaucrats in the ministerial corridors are far less enthusiastic. Said an official: “The deputy ministers are not direct decision-makers, but they sit on various intra- and inter-ministerial committees. Now it will be a hard task to get their dates or even to acquaint them with the problems that are to be discussed at the meetings.” Azad, the minister of state for civil supplies as well as civil aviation, may, for instance, have to divide his week between the two ministries the way Pranab Mukherjee, the minister for finance, used to divide the week between commerce and steel and mines when he held both charges. “This is counter-productive,” observed the official.Fast Shifts: The changes, made with a veneer of administrative expediency, betrayed a singular restlessness in the highest echelons of power, an indecisiveness which bordered on a sense of insecurity. In fact the men in charge of most of the important portfolios were changing faster than patterns in a kaleidoscope. Thus since January 1980 the labour minister changed six times, works and housing four times, education three times, tourism three times, civil suplies four times, railways four times, petroleum four times, shipping and transport four times, and commerce three times. Even the sensitive Defence Ministry, which calls for a stable leadership, witnessed four changes since 1980. Only the external affairs minister was left undisturbed, but that too because of the fact that it is Mrs Gandhi herself who calls the shots in the ministry.The slapdash changes indicate, if anything, Mrs Gandhi’s constant, and frustrating, search for the right man for the right job. But, strangely enough, the search is confined to only a handful of men and it meticulously keeps out those Congress(I) MP’s who have an earlier record of public service or have images of their own.New 20-point programme posters in Delhi: A faltering commitment?Thus, nonentities in the Maratha politics of Maharashtra, such as Shivraj Patil and Vijay Patil, find toe-holds in the ministerial council while veteran Maratha leaders like Y.B. Mohite or Premalatai Chavan, both MP’s and both with a record of unswerving loyalty to Mrs Gandhi, do not find places.Similarly, a rather lightweight Ashok Gehlot can work his way into the council from Rajasthan, but the claims of Mool Chand Daga, a veteran in the state’s politics, are disregarded. From Andhra Pradesh, the state that elected Mrs Gandhi, Pattabhi Rama Rao, whose only qualification is that he belongs to the same caste as that of N.T. Rama Rao, matinee idol and the Congress(I)’s arch enemy, makes the grade as minister of state for finance, while Brahmananda Reddy, a former Union home minister, merely looks on. Mrs Gandhi allows Khan Chowdhury the luxury of hopping on to the prestigious Railway Ministry after an undistinguished record as energy minister; at the same time she refuses to utilise the services of Ashok Sen, a veteran MP, star lawyer of the country and former Union law minister.Raw Hands: Said a former aide of Mrs Gandhi, now reflecting on times past and present from his retirement: “There was a time when she was not afraid of bringing in people who were equally talented, or even more talented. That was indeed her strength. Now she is afraid of talent the way – I’m sorry to use the analogy – nocturnal animals are afraid of light.”For instance, except Mrs Gandhi and Sethi, there is not a single member of the present Cabinet with ministerial experience of more than one term. In 1971, on the other hand, she chose a team with as many as four experienced men, even though the split in the party two years earlier had marked a total break with the past.The gnawing anxiety to steer clear of experienced, rooted men also marks Mrs Gandhi’s unique way of handling the delicate issue of allowing regional representation . The gigantic state of Uttar Pradesh, with 67 Congress(I) MP’s, has only one Cabinet-rank minister while Karnataka, with only 36 MP’s, has three.Haryana, with its seven MP’s, has one Cabinet minister while Punjab, with 13 MP’s, has none. West Bengal, with its tenuous contingent of just four Congress(I) MP’s, finds a representation in the Cabinet; but Rajasthan, with 27 MP’s, has the nominal representation of just two deputy ministers.A fuller, proportionate representation to the states depends upon the party high command’s willingness to open up the Cabinet to democratic forces, to select personnel not on the basis of its own threat perception but on the prime consideration of acknowledging the strength of each state unit of the party.Observed H.N. Bahuguna, MP and leader of the Democratic Socialist Party: “Mrs Gandhi wants gutless politicians like N.D. Tiwari, who earned the sobriquet of ‘New Delhi’ Tiwari during the Emergency, to overshadow all others. She doesn’t want an alternative leadership to grow in the state.”Akbar Ahmed, Maneka Gandhi’s lieutenant, rammed home the point further when he said: “Uttar Pradesh is the private fiefdom of Rajiv Gandhi and Arun Nehru. No person who can tower above them will be tolerated. You extend the same logic to the entire country, and you’ll find that she has chosen only the weeds from every state, leaving out the tall trees.”The overriding consideration in the ministerial sweepstakes has been just one: loyalty to Mrs Gandhi, Brahmananda Reddy and Yeshwantrao Chavan, both high-powered leaders in their home states, who had served for years in the Union Cabinet, were kept hanging in limbo just because they had once rebelled against Mrs Gandhi. In contrast, Stephen and Sharma managed to hang on to the Cabinet by the skin of their teeth only because there was no red ink mark on their dossiers of obedience to the prime minister.Shrinking Power: A minister is not a decorative centre-piece and the ministerial chair is not a fountainhead of power without responsibility. It is the duty of a minister to assess the problems of his department, to plan for the future as well as the present, to get the plan implemented and to defend his department’s activities on the floor of the House.Cabinet ministers seeing off Mrs Gandhi and Rajiv: Premium on loyaltyBut the Government under Mrs Gandhi, over the years, has witnessed only a constant shrinking of the minister’s stature, effected first by her choice of personnel, and then by constantly shuttling them around. Obsessed with the idea of not letting grass grow under the ministerial feet, all she has achieved is to raise a battery of superficial men, lacking specific understanding of any particular subject.Ministers are often not to blame as none of them possesses superhuman intellect. Before they get the hang of a particular ministry, they are packed off to something entirely dissimilar. Said an official: “What will poor P.C. Sethi do? He moved so abruptly between housing and railways that it’s but natural for him to confuse between housing stock and rolling stock. And Vasant Sathe is obviously wedged between culture and agriculture.” Only the babudom is unchanged and stoically regards the entry and exit of ministers as a mere passing show.Mrs Gandhi has added a new element to the systematic downgrading of the institution of ministers by taking more and more departments away from the charge of Cabinet members and putting them into the hands of ministers of state. Thus, with no representation at the Cabinet level, the affairs of I&b, civil aviation and tourism are now relegated to secondary importance.The ministers of state in charge of them, Salve, Bhagwat Jha Azad and Khursheed Alam Khan, can no doubt preside over the day-to-day administration of the ministries, but long-term decisions, or those of a controversial nature, will all be taken now at the prime minister’s level, and then routed through the Cabinet where the concerned ministries have no spokesmen.What has she achieved by shoving the 27 men and women up and down a hierarchical line? The answer, perhaps, lies embedded in her unique mental reflexes, in the see-saw rhythm of inertia and aggression that has marked the last 33 months of her rule. She was at the top of her form in the first six months, till Sanjay died in June and her life-force sank to its lowest depth.With her, the party and the Government floundered (India Today, September 16-30, 1980). The drained batteries were recharged to the full nine months later when she bounced back into the fighting arena, and unhesitatingly fired Vidya Charan Shukla from the Cabinet (India Today, April 1-15, 1981).The expansion of the Council of Ministers was itself a none too subtle move aimed at assuaging hurt feelings and building bridges with the dissidents by throwing a few ministerial crumbs from the table. But there are more dissidents than crumbs and the reshuffle is naturally followed by heartburn, frustration and griping in private.Still bitterer are the ministers who have been downgraded, sidelined, or at least not openly patted on the back. To expect them to close ranks is to put an impossible demand on the party. She also frittered away the gilt-edged opportunity that she got in 1980 when as many as 150 freshers stormed their way into the Lok Sabha, all waiting to be reared and trained into mature administrators.It is only now, after 35 months, that she is admitting a trickle of the young MPs into the corridors of power. The inclusion of Rath, Azad and Gehlot into the Council of Ministers this time is itself a muted but sure acceptance of the strident charge that the younger generation of Congressmen, who had singularly pulled her out of the pit during the Janata period, was now being conveniently sidelined. The seventh Lok Sabha has 103 under-40 Congress(I) MPs, but their representation in the Council of Ministers is on a disproportionately low key.A senior Congress(I) office-bearer, obviously distressed by the turn of events, bitterly summed up the situation: “There’s no leadership at the top. There’s no leadership at the bottom. There’s only a vast army of middle-rankers, of mediocre men and women basking in the reflected glory of the prime minister. I’m not sure if they can hold the reins of the state as the run-up to the 1985 general elections begins and the need arises to hasten the pace of development all around.”There are already slacks in the Government which the ministers are quite incapable of pulling in. Prices are again on the rise, the official wholesale price index having gone up 6 per cent in the last six months, and the foreign reserve, which stood at Rs 4,800 crore (excluding gold and special drawing rights) on April 1, 1981, is now down to Rs 3,634 crore.The foreign trade deficit today has reached a whopping Rs 5,000 crore, and there is no way of cutting it as Indian exports get slowly edged out of the world market while the import bill rises in almost geometric progression.There are disconcerting indications that even the much touted new 20-point plan (India Today, February 28) is heading for a dismal failure. An interim implementation report of the Planning Commission, monitoring progress of the plan over the April-June quarter this year, concluded that altogether 17 of the 20 points could not be implemented even to the extent of a mere 25 per cent of the target. The report’s further shocking revelations are:achievement has been as low as 7 per cent in providing house sites;targets for sterilisation fell short by an astonishing 90.9 per cent;the programme of providing assistance to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe members was ahieved up to just 6.8 per cent and 5.3 per cent of the targets;only 8.9 per cent of the needy poor were given assistance for building houses; anda mammoth and problem-ridden state, such as Bihar, exceeded the target in only one of the 16 points that it had taken up, the figures for some other states being Assam: three out of 10, Haryana: two out of 14, Karnataka: three out of 14; Kerala: two out of 14; Madhya Pradesh: three out of 16; Tamil Nadu: four out of 11; and Uttar Pradesh: two out of 14.With such a depressing track record of her government, and the constant drift of the economy towards a new pit of stagnation, Mrs Gandhi cannot but look up to a few capable managers to show a way out of the present impasse. She has no visible challenge, at least not from the fragmeated ranks of the opposition parties. The only threat to her is the wayward drift of her government, a trend, which, if not checked, can be turned by the Opposition to its advantage.The present Council of Ministers is unlikely to go through any drastic changes at least till next year, when elections take place in the two Congress(I) citadels of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka as well as in Assam, Tripura and Jammu & Kashmir. The electorate needs at least tangible evidence that the Congress(I) at the Centre is both willing and capable before it votes the party back to power in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In Assam, the protracted movement has already churned up a credible Opposition, and signs of drift and vacillation at the Centre will only enhance a final collapse of the weak Congress(I) edifice in the state. In Tripura and Jammu & Kashmir where the Congress(I), as the main opposition party, harbours the ambition of capturing power and is raring to go, inaction and inertia at the Centre can compel it to stop in its track.Failed Hopes: Last year when Rajiv joined the party to “help mummy” it was widely believed that his role would be to scout for talents to build up a new team from scratch, and to bring about – in the benign shadow of his mother – a smooth transition of generations in leadership. But such hopes are yet to be realised, if at all.For the moment, Mrs Gandhi is obviously anxious to ensure that Rajiv’s slow and limping journey towards the seat of power is not interrupted by road blocks. This perhaps explains her persistent insistence on loyalty as prime qualification and refusal to usher into the Cabinet people with experience who might grow into figures of strength on their own merit. After all, she had to contend with too many ‘experienced’ people herself after her accession to power in 1966. Said a senior member of her government, in an unguarded moment: “Hum to sub plate par chamche hain. Kabhi iss plate par, kabhi us plate par (We are just chamchas on a plate: sometimes on one plate and sometimes on another).”Slowly but surely, Rajiv himself joined the juggernaut-like Congress establishment which he could not beat. The latest reshuffle confirmed it; with the exception of Jagannath Kaushal, the law minister who had been inducted in the post-Sanjay era, not a single member of the Cabinet that Sanjay had virtually hand-picked has been changed.Mrs Gandhi gets into her elements only when she is faced with real challenges, either from within the country or from outside. During the Emergency and after, she was aglow with vitality because of the challenges that stared her in the face. Also it was Sanjay who became her fighting arm, her one-man army. It remains to be seen if Rajiv can become a fighter when the crunch comes.Right now for her time is of the essence. She needs time to galvanise the ministers and to derive from them that much of the short burst of energy which is just needed to clinch the race. She needs time for the middle-rankers to mature. She needs time for the young ministers to grow in experience, forming into a reserve pool of talents. Above everything else, she needs time to precision-hone her team again into a sharp-edged scythe when rust has enveloped the steel.But she has only 27 months, or 835 days, to go before the elections. Even at this late hour, can she turn the Government’s lackadaisical canter into a feisty, winning gallop? Can she cut bureaucratic corners and prove her mettle again even though the sand steadily runs out of her hour-glass? If the indecisive, shoddily planned and half-baked reshuffle is an example, the odds are certainly stacked against her this time.