Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cabinet reshuffle must be a game changer.....

After Maran’s exit, a cabinet re-shuffle has assumed renewed importance. In terms of timing, the re-shuffle offers the PM a great chance to make a crucial political statement of intent. He is lucky that the problems the UPA is facing are coming so early in its the next three years, the UPA can not only lift itself out of the pit it finds itself in, but can also re-capture the imagination of the people. The re-shuffle can be a good starting point.

There are a few ministers who stand out as being the ones who have quite a few things to hide. Those, who could shame the UPA even more going forward. These should be dealt with forthwith. I am listing some of them here....but the PM knows better.

Sharad Pawar tops the list of ministers who shouldn’t be in government at all. It’s an open secret that Sharad Pawar is perhaps the richest (and most corrupt) politician in the country. Most of his wealth is benami. His official declaration of wealth is a joke. In the past, when Sharad Pawar was younger, he was known as a good administrator. As the CM of Maharashtra, he did a lot of good for the state. But that was then. Since then, either his own motivations have changed, or the people of the country have started expecting more.....but today, Sharad Pawar is a liability waiting to be explode. Whatever the political cost, the PM has to ease Sharad Pawar out.......

Then there is SM Krishna. Now, I have nothing to say about his integrity at all. In fact, he’s stayed fairly non-controversial and does bring a lot of dignity to the role. But the reason he must go is because he is too old and we need a younger, more dynamic foreign minister. One who understands the opportunities that are open for India at the moment. The world is changing. The G8 has more or less yielded ground to the G20. Everyone is wooing India. The NSG waiver and the Indo-US nuclear deals were done in spite of India not signing the NPT. India needs to join the UN Security Council as a permanent member and that’s going to take a lot of lobbying. Then there is all of Africa to be won over. Then the struggle for territory and global power against a strong and aggressive China. The permanent battle of wits with Pakistan. I read somewhere that the foreign ministers of big countries like the US (Hillary Clinton) and UK (William Hague) are widely regarded as the #2s in their respective governments. Why is it that SM Krishna is not even in the top five in India? We need a younger, more dynamic minister. Shashi Tharoor should never have left! Maybe its time to bring him back!

Then there’s Vilasrao Deshmukh. In Bombay, it’s a well known fact that he’s nothing but a wily politician to the core. His involvement in Adarsh has come out recently and even without Adarsh, he has much to explain. As a CM of Maharashtra, he did nothing for the state. Even in the central government, he’s doing nothing at all. He has no place in the Union cabinet.

I am sure there are a few others that the PM needs to weed out. But I now want to move onto ministers who must be given a wider role. They have proven to be capable. Many of them are silent workers. Many are aggressive in their styles. But either way, they will add to the heft of the UPA in these trying times.

Pranab Mukherjee needs no further elevation. He’s already the #2 in the cabinet. Chidambaram is also well placed as the Home Minister. It must be mentioned that Chidambaram’s credentials are also suspect, but because he is an extremely capable administrator, I would still continue with him. I would enhance the roles of people like Kamal Nath, CP Joshi, Praful Patel, Kapil Sibal, Ambika Soni, Anand Sharma and Ajay Maken. These are the young turks of the UPA and today is a time for them to take over. Who else should be in the cabinet is for the PM to decide.....we simply don’t have enough information in the public domain about all the MPs. But what is clear is that the chosen ones must have a reputation for integrity and efficiency.

Once the council of ministers is re-shuffled, the government must get back to business. Much of the Lokpal steam is already off. The government must surprise the people of this country by making it a stronger body than what most people expect it to do. Having done that, the government must go back to minding the economy. There are serious headwinds facing the country. Reforms are the way forward. The cabinet finally cleared the FM radio expansion policy yesterday. They need to now move ahead with reforms in insurance, labor laws, DTC, GST, land acquisition; mining.....they need a strong industrial and manufacturing policy. They need to open up multi-brand retail. It’s clear. The way to regain its strength is going to be by building the economy. Not by playing politics. If the people of this country do well economically, they will forgive the government for the charges on corruption. After all, people understand – most of the damage to the UPA has been inflicted by alliance partners, not by the Congress itself. And people do understand the compulsions of politics. They know that if the DMK offers to join the BJP alliance tomorrow, it will be accepted with open arms.

The real truth is that the Congress’s positioning in the minds of people is that of a “dhandha ki party”. Since 1991, it’s only been during the Congress/UPA rule that the economy has done so well (Those who complain about the first forty years should read their history chapters first). When the NDA was ruling between 1999 and 2004, the GDP growth slumped. The NDA is a “Brahminical” relishes politics. It stands for principles derived from Hindu religion; which are totally irrelevant to the people today. To that extent, the BJP still hasn’t realized that it is going in the wrong direction. The Congress should focus on growing the economy and distributing the wealth. That alone will extract it from its current mess.....

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