More optics, less action PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 20 January 2011 00:00
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The most powerful signal coming out of yesterday’s Cabinet reshuffle, and we welcome it, is that all ministers under a cloud have been replaced. This applies to ministers who were seen to be too close to certain corporate groups, ministers who got into public spats but didn’t do much to further the jobs they were assigned, and ministers who just failed to deliver. This list includes the likes of Murli Deora whose tenure in the petroleum ministry was marked by allegations of favouritism, which resulted in a lowering of investor interest in oil/gas exploration; the government gained more control over oil/gasfields developed by the private sector and the ministry’s stand on Cairn-Vedanta is best forgotten. Kamal Nath just complained of being stymied by the Planning Commission and failed to deliver on his promises, and didn’t do anything to clean up the corruption mess in the highways department. Praful Patel got it completely wrong on Air India—after getting it to spend billions of dollars on new planes, he failed to follow up with a financing or restructuring plan, and got stuck in taking potshots at the airline’s chief—and his airport privatisation plans were also full of controversy. Apart from the initial airports, there was no movement on others. So, it is a relief to see some of these faces go. Sharad Pawar spent more time on IPL than on his primary charge, and wanted to be divested of food and civil supplies when things got hot—that’s what the government did. The government can feel good that it has replaced some of the names that have been an embarrassment for it, including MS Gill who botched up badly on the Commonwealth Games.


That’s the good news. The bad news is that none of the non-performers have been dropped, indeed Patel has got promoted to a Cabinet rank. Gill has been removed from sports and youth affairs and put in statistics and programme implementation—the assumption being the new charge is hardly that important. The replacements don’t look that awe-inspiring either. While it is true that everyone deserves a chance, certainly none of those who have got important portfolios have any great reputations for delivery, some are more comfortable with socialism than with capitalism and reforms their new charges require.

Last, all the changes suggest there is no concept of collective responsibility. If Sharad Pawar got it totally wrong on food policy and civil supplies (a minister of state has been given some of his responsibilities), surely the Cabinet was as much to blame? If Patel continuously got it wrong on Air India, and Deora on Cairn-Vedanta or on making investors unwelcome, where was the Cabinet—indeed, where was the Cabinet when A Raja was doing his little number? All in all, more optics than substance. Let’s hope the next reshuffle, when it does happen, is better planned.


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