Monday, August 10, 2009

Power & Politics/ Mail Today, August 10, 2009

EXTERNAL Affairs Minister SM Krishna and Shivraj Patil, the former home minister who had to resign in disgrace after fiddling through 26/ 11 have in common an obsession for sartorial elegance, but that’s about all the common ground that they share.

Yet, ribald SMS jokes are doing the rounds about their many commonalities and I suspect the government’s spin doctors are behind these crude attempts. Some of the text messages border on the vulgar, so I will not share them here, but their underlying theme is this: Krishna is as clueless in South Block as Patil was across the road in North Block.
Such comparisons are less than fair to Krishna and the reasons are many.

For one, he has been in office for less than eighty days which is a very short time to judge a man who I assume is there for a five year tenure. In comparison, Patil blundered along for four and a half years and it wasn’t until the blasts in Hyderabad and Jaipur well into his third year in office that questions began to be raised whether he was the right man for the hot job. On that count alone, Krishna deserves the benefit of doubt but there are more crucial differences. In UPA I, Patil was Sonia Gandhi’s handpicked nominee with a mandate to run the ministry as he deemed fit. As foreign minister, Krishna does not enjoy that privilege. In fact, few foreign ministers in recent times have had that. Barring perhaps Pranab Mukherjee in the last government and Jaswant Singh in Vajpayee’s, foreign ministers have played second fiddle as foreign policy has always been directed from the PMO.

A Fulbright scholar, chief minister and governor, Krishna has the finesse and the articulation for the job. His fault is that he is less than ambitious and quite new to Delhi’s cloak and dagger world of plots and conspiracies. How shameless then that over enthusiastic babus in the foreign office should try to deflect the blame for the recent shames in their backyard from the PMO to this affable Kannadiga. It is no secret that at Sharm El Sheikh and during all the acrimony witnessed in Parliament over the alleged sellout, foreign office mandarins were seen closeted not with their minister but in the PMO.

The work that ministers do is judged in comparison with the accomplishments/failures of their predecessors. Krishna is disadvantaged here since his predecessor was the UPA’s all purpose man and super minister Pranab Mukherjee. He seldom took directions and always took decisions.

And don’t forget he has also been Manmohan Singh’s boss and it comes as no surprise that despite being the prime minister and first among equals, Manmohan frequently consults Pranabda for inputs on vital policy matters, be they on the economic, domestic or external front. At the moment, Krishna is merely allowed to take directions. There cannot be accountability without responsibility. The PMO cannot run the foreign office and dodge responsibility when things go wrong. Krishna should be judged when he is given the powers to perform.

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