Why have ministries if the Prime Minister can do the job himself?
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will retain the external affairs portfolio, for now. Unlike previous prime ministers who were their own foreign ministers, Dr Singh is not known to have any special expertise or experience in foreign policy. So in all likelihood, the reason for him doing so is either to keep it for or away from someone. But it also means that the foreign ministry lacks leadership at what may be a critical year for Indian foreign policy. M K Narayanan has been an unremarkable national security advisor, lacking the influence of Brajesh Mishra and the experience of J N Dixit, his two immediate precessors. As minister of state, E Ahamed is not expected to provide strategic direction. And he lives up to this job description. That leaves the well-regarded Shyam Saran, as the top career diplomat, to run the ministry. There are limits, however, to how much a civil servant can do.
Fortunately, for now, Mani Shankar Aiyar has been dropped from the cabinet. Under his term as petroleum minister, ‘oil diplomacy’ became a popular phrase in the Indian media. His exit perhaps puts an end to the unfortunate Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project.