IN THE system of government that we have, the prime minister should ideally have the final say in the selection of his cabinet. In reality, that seldom is the case. During the last two weeks, while the process of cabinet formation and portfolio distribution was on, there was ample evidence of the prime minister’s helplessness in choosing his team. For over 12 days, a lot of haggling, hassling and bargaining went on. It was convenient for Congressmen to blame it all on the power struggle in the DMK. Truth be told the problem was within the Congress itself.
After endless rounds of negotiations and compromise, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is left with a ministerial council, of whom a quarter would not have been there if the prerogative was entirely his. Flush with victory on May 16, Manmohan promised to do much within the first 100 days but sadly, the first two weeks were spent bickering over who would be in and who would be out and who would get what portfolio.
The way the Congress party works, it would be tempting to believe that Sonia Gandhi’s writ runs in the party and that the collective might of the Congress chief, the prime minister and Rahul Gandhi was all that was needed to steamroll all opposition. While it is true that the DMK made the inclusion of certain ministers and their portfolios nonnegotiable, the problem was compounded by the internal pressures within the Congress and the part played by party satraps from some of the states. As proof, you need look no further than the inclusion of seven former Congress chief ministers in the cabinet, not to speak of two from the allies. The latter of course are beyond the control of the High Command, but it is the inclusion of some of the ex Congress chief ministers that raises eyebrows.
In the past, ex chief ministers like ND Tiwari, VP Singh, SB Chavan, Zail Singh were given important portfolios but they were not losers as today's crop are; Vilasrao Deshmukh’s removal from Mantralaya for his ineptitude during the Mumbai massacre is too recent to bear repetition. Yet, he had the gall to land up in Delhi, supporters in tow, lobbying for a place in the cabinet and a portfolio of his choice. There may have been several factors at work that rendered the Sonia- Manmohan team unable to resist such pressures, but still praise be to them.
The portfolios handed to them shows they have been put in their places. Deshmukh has got Heavy Industries and PSUs. Coming at a time when the public sector is being forced to yield space to the private, Deshmukh should be grateful they saddle him with the Ministry of Nationalisation.
Himachal’s Virbhadra Singh must have been looking forward to Deshmukh: Surprise heading a newly created Ministry of Fruit Processing, but now must make do with Steel which will do no good to his bid to regain his numero uno status in his home state. The suave SM Krishna at External Affairs must surely be aware that while the Prime Minister will keep a keen watch from above, Shashi Tharoor, first time MP, will be equally vigilant below. Farooq Abdullah’s eyes were set on the tourism portfolio but he will have to make do with New and Renewable Energy. I assume the babus will in the next few days tell him what that is all about. If all this proves anything, it is that while the prime minister does not have the right to pick his own team, it is entirely his prerogative to show them their true worth.