Did Prabhu pay for exceeding his brief?
Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Mumbai
Resignations, it appears, are nothing new for Shiv Sena MP and Power Minister Suresh Prabhu. This is the third time he has put in his papers since he became a minister in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government.
Prabhu, former managing director of the Saraswat Co-operative Bank and ex-chairman of the Maharashtra State Finance Corporation, contested the general election for the first time in 1996 from the Rajapur constituency in Maharashtra against Madhu Dandavate and defeated the veteran Socialist.
His lack of political experience did not count against him. The Sena nominated him from its group of 15 MPs to the first Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in May 1996. He was appointed industry minister, but the first National Democratic Alliance government resigned in 13 days.
But Prabhu was not to be denied his place in the sun. In February 1998, when the NDA returned to power he was appointed environment and forests minister. In October 1999, when the NDA won a mid-term election, he was appointed minister for chemicals and fertilizers. Yet another shift in his portfolio was to take place in September 2000 when he was named power minister, after P R Kumaramangalam died suddenly.
The suave banker has long been considered an outsider by many Shiv Sainiks, mainly because he did not attend regular meetings at the shakhas (Shiv Sena party units) and became a Cabinet minister without investing years of political labour as other Sena veterans had to.
Sena chief Bal Thackeray is said to have ignored the muted criticism until recently because of Prabhu's impressive professional skills. A chartered accountant by training, Prabhu had a better image than some Sena contenders for ministerial office.
But the minister's critics in his party have grown. Observers say there is a perception in the Sena that Prabhu has distanced himself from the party rank and file and is more interested in his assignment as power minister.
On Sunday, August 18, Thackeray told the Sena daily, Saamna, that ministers who could not work according to the people's wishes had no right to continue in office. Observers felt this remark was clearly aimed at Prabhu.
Thackeray may replace Prabhu with Sena Rajya Sabha MP R N Dhoot, a director of the Videocon group. Another replacement could be Anant Gite, currently Union minister of state for finance. In that event, Dhoot could get Gite's portfolio.
Sena sources claim Prabhu has expressed a desire to continue as power minister till August 23 because of his many pending appointments. Prime Minister Vajpayee, it is said, is keen this efficient member of his Cabinet continue in office.
Among Prabhu's achievements as power minister is the meeting he convened of chief ministers of 17 states in March 2001, where a landmark decision was taken to eliminate power theft and attain commercial viability in distribution. The minister was also talking to leaders of various political parties, trade unions, industry associations to build a consensus on power sector reforms.
'Distribution today is the weakest link in the power sector,' he said recently. 'Due to lack of investment and unplanned extension of power supply, the distribution system has become weak and fragile. Transmission and distribution losses have assumed gigantic proportions making the sector unviable. Any strategy to reform the power sector has to first focus on the distribution sector and make it viable.'