Populist Council

The expansion and reshuffle of the 20 month old Union Council of Ministers on Sunday seems to have been intricately worked out by the Prime Minister with the counsel of the person who matters the most—Sonia Gandhi. Regrettably, it is not the Prime Minister but Sonia Gandhi’s stamp which is clearly visible as far as the final team selection goes. In effect it looks as though that the entire exercise was planned out to give shape to a team that reflects more on the nitty-gritty of regional push and shoves rather than a serious exercise to compose a team that has as its first priority the governance of the country. Consider the fact that three senior members from Maharashtra including former Chief Ministers Sushil Kumar Shinde and A R Antulay were inducted along with Murli Deora, a Congress veteran from Mumbai. It is obvious that Sonia’s known insecurity with the Sharad Power (Pawar) factor may have been the reason for this offensive—to pave the way for the revival of the party’s fortune in that State. Likewise, the elevation to Cabinet rank of the erstwhile Minister of State Santosh Mohan Deb, a Congress veteran from Assam is clearly with an eye on the coming Assam State Assembly Election. At the end, one is left wondering on whether Prime Minister Manmohan Singh got at all the team that he would have wanted to run a government and definitely not a showpiece Populist Council of Ministers.

One of the other disappointments is that the expansion of the Union Council of Ministers saw Rajya Sabha members bagging the lion’s share with 4 of the 7 new faces in the Cabinet. As a government of the people, it would be more appropriate to follow the precedent of giving priority in government formation to the Lok Sabha as their nature of representation is through direct election and as such they represent the true will of the people. The latest expansion exercise only goes to show that a handful of coterie have been rewarded for their loyalty more than anything else. This in itself is a bad precedent. 

As it is, the latest expansion and reshuffle exercise of the Union Council of Ministers falls below expectation on several counts some of which have already been mentioned. Also there was no reason as to why a full-fledged External Affairs Minister could not be appointed to fill in the void after K Natwar Singh had to resign following Volcker controversy. That the country finds it difficult to find a person to head the External Affairs Ministry is indeed baffling knowing fully well that there are serious issues on the external front that needs high priority. To mention a few: the peace process with Pakistan, the Iran nuclear issue, developments is Nepal and the looming India-visit of US President George W. Bush. Without a full-fledged Minister to steer the foreign policy ship it only sends the wrong signal to the outside world. The sooner this gap is plugged in the better it would be for the interest and security of the country.