The first among equals in the Union cabinet had a stormy 2011 where he saw his favourite economic agenda scuttled at the altar of rank political expediency. The 2G scam, the ensuing Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement and the inability of his UPA government to usher in FDI in retail in the closing weeks of the year has left India's economic miracle story a little frayed at the edges. His several clarion calls to keep economics on top of the political agenda lies subverted at the end of 2011. In 2012, he has a lot on his plate, including five important assembly elections, the outcome of which would further determine the fate of the country's global economic agenda.
Union home minister P Chidambaram or PC as he is known in political circles, has been in the eye of the storm over the leaked 2G scam letter in late 2011. But his tenure in South Block is regarded as sound – if he continues to hold office in 2012 after court proceedings in 2G conclude.
This veteran and short tempered Union finance minister has been Congress's principal trouble shooter in 2011. From defending the government on 2G to advising the party high command on the guiles of Anna Hazare, Mukerjee is expected to be at his reliable best in 2012 while articulating tricky government and party positions in his broad Bangla English.
The man who moved the ministry of environment and forests like no incumbent before him, is expected to dominate 2012 with his proposed Land Acquisition Bill. The Bill may suggest a hitherto new approach to this vexed problem which is turning out to be a matter of intense discomfort for India's corporate class and blue chip foreign investors who are waiting hands-on to acquire land for their ambitious projects, currently hanging in thin air.
The Maratha strongman, as ever, had a great year, with his reputation for multitasking touching dizzy heights. From being a global cricket czar to the country's agriculture minister, Pawar's hands are full. According to political grapevine, there is scarcely a pie in which he does not have his fingers. Being a Congress ally has not blinded him to his own requirements and he has let the senior partner know it whenever required, at the state or the centre.
This savvy high end lawyer was the party's face for most part of early and middle 2011, particularly at the start of the Anna Hazare agitation. As Union human resource development (HRD) minister since May 2009, Sibal has striven hard to pursue the Education for All programme and has given indications that he wants a re-look at the functioning of IITs and IIMs in 2012.
This anti-protectionist Union commerce and industry minister has had a lot on his plate in 2011 – a marked slowing down of the economy and fall in industrial output. Sharma has emerged as the government's main spokesman on the FDI in retail and has branded opposition to it as 'obstructionist'. He is simultaneously approaching members of Parliament in a two-pronged move as well as giving states the option to choose the FDI route if they so wish. Riding too many horses at the same time is this man from Shimla.
This Union law minister's elevation to office coincided within a few weeks of the Anna Hazare campaign. Since then, Khurshid has been in the thick of things, his prime charge being framing the now controversial Lokpal Bill. As a professional lawyer he can convincingly answer questions in the Parliament and TV studios and is certain to play a major role in the Lokpal debate and its aftermath. In a sense, he is the man who faces Anna's wrath as law minister but is also best equipped to handle the fallout, should things go awry.
When this most honest of politicians was allotted the Union defence ministry, it raised eyebrows. Could a man as scrupulous as him preside over the country's largest procuring ministry where sale of arms and ammunition runs into thousands of crores every year and where middlemen have traditionally called the shots? Anthony has held firm and has done what he can to introduce transparency in a world which by nature is opaque. He is likely to do in 2012 what he did in 2011, head India's formidable defence purchase programme, seek bilateral military tie ups with countries such as Russia and oversee the gradual phaseout of MIGs.
S Jaipal Reddy
The highly erudite Union petroleum minister S Jaipal Reddy emerged as the country's main votary on decontrolling the sector. He used 2011 to emphasise repeatedly that rising oil prices globally was going to impact inflation in India which imports 80 per cent of its total crude requirements. His primary agenda in 2012 is to find investments for Indian companies in liquefied natural gas sector. Quite a switch from his days as Union urban development minister not so long ago.