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Manmohan: The Mallu Connection
June 02, 2004
You get to hear two very different complaints in Delhi and in Thiruvananthapuram. Down in Kerala, everyone is complaining that the state is miserably represented in the Union Council of Ministers. In Delhi, well, I will come to that later.
It is not really Sonia Gandhi's fault that she hasn't been able to appoint more ministers from Kerala in Dr Manmohan Singh's team. The sad fact is that this time not a single Congressman could win a seat in the Lok Sabha. In fact, the only nominee from the United Democratic Front who could make it this time was a candidate from the Muslim League, E Ahamed. And he has been hastily pencilled in as a minister of state.
(Eighteen of the 20 seats in the state were won by the Left Front, and the Communists have decided to wield influence from behind the scenes. The twentieth one went to the National Democratic Alliance; mercifully for the Congress, it did not go to the Bharatiya Janata Party -- which would have been the supreme insult!)
Of course, there is no dearth of senior Congressmen in the Rajya Sabha. But the Upper House of Parliament is already over-represented in the Cabinet, and there is no real excuse for adding any more.
Right, so much for Kerala's grouses. What does Delhi have to grumble about?
Believe it or not, from the perspective of the national capital, Keralites have got much more than they deserve! They point to the fact that people of Malayali origin are increasingly seen in the corridors of power, particularly where it counts most -- in and around the prime minister's office.
It begins with the all-important post of principal secretary to the prime minister. The last occupant was the high-profile Brajesh Mishra, and that in itself should be enough to tell you just how powerful the office can be. It is held today by a man who has previously served both I K Gujral and Atal Bihari Vajpayee -- T K A Nair.
There was, I understand, some opposition to T K A Nair's name when it was initially mooted by Dr Manmohan Singh. A move was initiated to make Nair's title that of 'officer on special duty' rather than that of 'principal secretary to the prime minister'. It took some effort from Dr Manmohan Singh himself to ensure that the original designation was restored.
The episode deserves at least a footnote when the history of the Manmohan Singh ministry is written. For one, it seems the nominal prime minister is bent upon getting the bureaucrats of his choice even if he had no say in his ministerial colleagues. (Nor even in the allocation of portfolios!) Second, Nair should be an interesting and valuable addition to the team; anyone who has earned the trust of individuals as different as I K Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Dr Manmohan Singh is obviously someone who deserves to be given a closer look.
Brajesh Mishra was not just principal secretary to the prime minister, he was also the national security adviser. The two offices are now held by different individuals, a very wise decision in most people's opinion. The new occupant also possesses roots in Kerala. J N Dixit happens to be the son of the famous Malayalam writer Munshi Paramu Pillai. (The difference in surnames is a story for another day.) Dixit, who has enjoyed a distinguished career in the foreign service, may be the only man to possess the distinction of serving in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. Dixit has a reputation for being a 'hardliner' when it comes to India's security.
The third Keralite who has been appointed to an important post is M K Narayanan, who is now a special adviser to the prime minister. Narayanan, a former director of the Intelligence Bureau and a prolific commentator after his retirement, was once a favourite of the late Rajiv Gandhi.
The fourth new appointee with a Kerala connection is the world-renowned agricultural scientist Dr M S Swaminathan. He was one of the 'three S's' who helped trigger the Green Revolution in India (the others being C Subramaniam, the minister, and Sivaraman, the bureaucrat).
Dr Manmohan Singh had virtually no say in the composition of what is technically his ministry. He has been saddled with tainted ministers, must cope with plunging markets spooked by idiotic sound bites courtesy the Left, and was a mere spectator when the DMK struck work. But he has chosen decent and talented men to work with him in his own office. Keralites, along with the rest of India, should take such comfort as they can from this.
T V R Shenoy