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Besmirching Manmohan's name
May 26, 2004
Well begun is half done. So what happens when the beginning is anything but auspicious? That is a question the new prime minister must answer.
Nobody in Delhi pretends that the Union Cabinet is controlled by Dr Manmohan Singh. (Or indeed that he is prime minister in anything but name!) But he came to office with the reputation of being a clean man, someone who would quit rather than compromise on principle. This is belied by the ministry that bears his name.
It is bad enough that the prime minister himself is not a member of the Lok Sabha. (Indeed, he is a man who lost his only bid for direct election to Parliament.) But what is worse is that his colleagues are men who have been rejected by the people mere weeks ago.
The Union home ministry has traditionally been recognised as one of the major offices of state, from Sardar Patel down to L K Advani. Why then has it been given to Shivraj Patil, a man who comes to Delhi fresh from his drubbing at the hands of his voters in Latur? The former MP is a very decent human being, but it is unethical to raise him to Sardar Patel's chair at this point in time.
Sadly, this is not the only such instance. The Union power minister is an old friend, P M Sayeed. He has won, incredible though it sounds, 10 successive elections to the Lok Sabha from Lakshadweep. (He entered Parliament in 1967, 37 years ago; to put that into perspective, remember that Milind Deora, one of the younger MPs in this Lok Sabha, is a stripling of twenty-seven!) But the fact remains that P M Sayeed has lost in 2004. Rewarding him with a seat in the Union Cabinet is an insult to the voters.
That also goes for Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation Praful Patel who lost the election from Bhandara, Maharashtra. What exactly was the urgency that required Shivraj Patil, Praful Patel, and P M Sayeed to be sworn in just now?
Of course, merely winning an election does not suffice to qualify a man as minister. Look no farther than Laloo Prasad Yadav, Taslimuddin, and their fellows for proof. In 1996, the CPI-M protested vociferously when Taslimuddin was made minister of state in the home ministry by H D Deve Gowda. Why are the Communists silent today?
Third, there is the drama enacted by the DMK under Karunanidhi's direction. I do not blame the DMK leader. He and his party never wanted to be in the Union Cabinet in the first instance; they were persuaded after the Congress offered a written guarantee that the DMK ministers would be given certain portfolios, including revenue and shipping. (Why the latter was offered to the leader of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti is beyond me, given that the proposed Telangana will be landlocked!)
The drama also gave away the worst-kept secret in Delhi, namely that the portfolios were being decided by Sonia Gandhi rather than the nominal prime minister. It was ultimately she who broke the deadlock by giving the DMK ministers their due.
Speculation is rife that Karunanidhi wanted the revenue department under his thumb to give Jayalalithaa something to remember. That is possible, but I suspect he also wanted to cut down the high-flying Union finance minister. The DMK supremo certainly didn't like the fact that P Chidambaram is the highest ranking minister from Tamil Nadu.
Fourth, there is the curious Santosh Mohan Deb affair. He had been given independent charge of heavy industries and public enterprises with the rank of minister of state. Curiously, the aforementioned Taslimuddin was also pencilled into the same ministry, also with the rank of minister of state (albeit not with independent charge). Who was responsible for this stupidity?
Fifth, why didn't anyone protest when several major states were not given their due? Having committed the sin of giving most of its seats to the Biju Janata Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance, Orissa is completely unrepresented. Nor is there any minister of Cabinet rank from Karnataka. And what was the Sonia Gandhi coterie thinking when it could only find the Muslim League's E Ahamed to represent Kerala in the Cabinet?
It is true that no Congress candidate was elected to the Lok Sabha from Kerala. But there are three veterans from Kerala cooling their heels in the Rajya Sabha -- K Karunakaran, Vayalar Ravi and T Balakrishna Pillai. Karunakaran is both a former chief minister and former Union Cabinet minister. Ravi was home minister of Kerala. Pillai is a former chief of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee. Couldn't at least one of them have served?
Given the Congress party's horrible performance in Kerala in the general election, none of them will risk bringing down the Antony government by way of revenge. But they will be brooding over the 'insult' (as one supporter told me), and there will be long-term repercussions.
Nobody is giving anything more than lip service to the notion that poor Dr Manmohan Singh is anything but a figurehead. (Least of all the president of Pakistan, who has cheekily offered to hold talks with Sonia Gandhi directly!) But this ministry will go down in the record books as the Manmohan Singh government. Doesn't Mr Clean care anything for his image?