PM's dud: New cabinet, with same old governance deficit

Reshuffle was meant to show PM is in command, it ended up showing govt is running adrift


Ajay Singh | January 20, 2011

In the cabinet reshuffle, prime minister Manmohan Singh has applied formulae of economics in politics. He seems so convinced of the utilitarian theory of “greatest good for greatest number” that he accommodated and elevated leaders from Uttar Pradesh and Kerala to co-opt certain social groups. He felt that his move would put the Congress in a better position to forge a social coalition in Uttar Pradesh or Kerala in the coming assembly elections.

But politics is hardly a number game, a fact amply demonstrated by the Bihar elections. It is quite strange that the cabinet expansion and reshuffle is being used to put across messages to castes and communities.

For instance, Beni Prasad Verma, a new entrant in the Congress, is given the minister-of-state rank only to attract Kurmis who form a significant chunk of the OBC voters in UP. However, the entire exercise left Verma sulking. In fact, Verma was the cabinet minister in the H D Deve Gowda government way back in the 1990s. He felt his accommodation was nothing short of demotion. Obviously, the Congress’s effort to please a significant social group has come to a naught. Similarly, Sri Prakash Jaiswal’s elevation is aimed at winning over the trader community of Banias who were traditionally with the BJP but had switched sides to go with the BSP in the recent past. But the party believes in the notion that Jaiswal’s promotion would be a right signal to Banias.

Having taken care of the Bania-OBC combine, the reshuffle and expansion turned to address the concerns of the minorities by elevating Salman Khurshid to the cabinet rank. Perhaps the leadership chose to forget the fact that it was during Khurshid’s tenure as UP Congress chief that the Muslims slipped away from the party. The same holds true about Kerala where ministers were accommodated to send across a definite message to the constituency.

If anything, the reshuffle/expansion of the union cabinet arguably has seriously undermined the issue of governance. The prime minister is supposed to structure his cabinet to streamline the functioning of the government. Within less than two years of winning the Lok Sabha elections, selecting ministers purely for electoral reasons only reflects the drift in the government.

During the past six months, as the hue and cry over corruption was building up, the prime minister was sending across a message of effecting major changes in the reshuffle. He promised to tackle inefficiency and corruption head on. But none of these assertions are visible in the reshuffle.

He shifted Kamal Nath and Praful Patel to other ministries which are considered to be less lucrative than their previous assignments. If Vilasrao Deshmukh was not good in the heavy industry ministry, he was made minister for rural development, a ministry flushed with funds and encumbered with various social welfare programmes.

Though he probably wanted to send across a different message, the entire exercise has only demonstrated that prime minister Manmohan Singh has been presiding over a government which is running adrift.



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