India PM wants to cut average age of his cabinet

09:49AM Mon 6 Sep, 2010

NEW DELHI - India's prime minister said on Monday he wanted to lower the average age of his cabinet, a remark that could signal a greater role for young and reformist ministers in a team dominated by a socialist old guard.

Prime Minister Manmohan's Singh's comments came ahead of a possible cabinet reshuffle before the winter parliament session begins in November.

Several elderly and powerful ministers have been criticised for scuttling new thinking in the government, frustrating Singh's efforts toward rapid reforms, like opening up retail to foreign investors, after last year's resounding election victory.

"I would like to reduce the average age of my cabinet," Singh was quoted by the semi-official Press Trust of India news agency as saying after the 77-year-old leader met newspaper and television editors in New Delhi.

The Congress party-led government's term has seen the rise of some younger figures like Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, who who created a stir last year by suggesting that India could be more flexible in its negotiating stance at the Copenhagen climate change summit. He soon backed down under pressure.

Singh's drive for youth is also backed by Rahul Gandhi, 40-year-old son of Congress party head Sonia Gandhi and a likely future prime minister.

"Younger people are more dynamic, they are open to newer ideas and can be more flexible - all these are things investors will like," said D.H. Pai Panandikar, head of the New Delhi-based private think-tank RPG Foundation.

The average age of Singh's cabinet is almost 64 - old compared with that of Britain at about 51 years or even the United States at just above 57 years.

Most Indian ministers heading top ministries are about 70 years old or more.

The younger ministers have been in the headlines, for trying to push established norms of policy-framing or even the use of modern technology such as Twitter.

But any attempt at building a younger cabinet may mean Singh will only bring in more young faces rather than drop ageing ministers, most of whom remain powerful. He may give more responsibilities to incumbent junior ministers who are young.