Monday, August 6, 2012

Mishandling, indifference at the top: How not to handle key Ministries

The first thing to recognise – and recognise publicly – is that the Prime Minister of India had precious little to do with the two cabinet appointments that all Indians are talking about. Congress spokespersons have been telling sceptics that it is the Prime Minister's prerogative to appoint cabinet ministers. Well, not in India in its current phase of politics. And every child knows it, including Congress spokespersons.

Given the self-focus of those who govern our country, no one expected anything inspiring from the long-predicted cabinet reshuffle. But no one expected a slap in the face either. Picking Sushilkumar Shinde for promotion from Power Minister to Home Minister was damaging enough as an idea. Its timing made it an affront to the people. Under his auspices, the nation faced its biggest ever power breakdown plunging 300 million people into darkness. The next day a bigger breakdown occurred affecting 600 million people. Precisely in that dark hour, he was relieved of his burden and elevated to Home. Just when a minister flops, give him a promotion. A strange logic that begs questions.

Why did not the Supreme Power wait for a week so that the people would at least not feel offended? Because the Supreme Power does not care what the people feel. Why Shinde? Because his appointment would carry two messages. First, that Home is a portfolio that the Supreme Power wants to be closely guarded by The Faithful. Second, that Shinde ranking high among The Faithful is all that counts. The country's interests? That's secondary.

Let's not make the mistake of thinking that this was a chance appointment. Actually, there is a method in this madness. Remember the best-dressed man in Indian politics, Shivraj Patil? As a prominent member of The Faithful, he was given Home earlier. The result was disaster. Terrorist sleeper cells sprouted across the country, Indian Mujahideen appeared on the scene, Maoists gained ground, the professionals in the security establishment raised warning signals. Even political circles expressed doubts about the competence level of the Minister. Nothing mattered. The Minister's suits remained immaculate and the Supreme Power happy. Then 26/11 happened. Finally the man had to be kicked upstairs and P. Chidambaram brought in. Home is now back in safely incompetent, and safely faithful, hands.

Chidambaram, one of the smartest operators in politics, handled 50 percent of the Home Ministry with efficiency. He identified problem areas, took corrective steps, improved the morale of the professionals. But he fumbled with the other 50 percent. He made the Maoist problem worse by failing to see the difference between them and Pakistan-backed Mujahideens. He was insensitive in handling Kashmir and the Northeast. He was crude and counterproductive in the way he tackled the Anna Hazare movement. His success was that he had secured his place among The Faithful. So he could get away with his faultlines. That also explains his return to Finance from where he had given rise to allegations of malfeasance. As Finance Minister he will perhaps perform better than he did as Home Minister, but what will happen to issues like the 2-G spectrum case?

The overriding factor that stares the nation in the face is the ruling clique's indifference to the real problems facing the people and to anything like a longterm view of things. Typical is the treatment meted out to the Power ministry in the latest shuffle. Poor infrastructure is recognised as one of the major roadblocks in the way of economic growth and investment. This makes Power a key portfolio, but the Congress party could not find a capable minister to handle it on a fulltime basis. It has simply put it as “additional charge” on Veerappa Moily's head which is already occupied by the Corporate Affairs ministry.

Look at it anyway, the ruling group is anything but serious about ruling. There is no accountability, no logic, no understanding of the country's needs, no empathy with the people. There is only one fixation: Ensuring the security and interests of the Supreme Power.