Monday, August 29, 2011

Race Course Road/ The Sunday Standard/August 28, 2011

PM’s Crisis Managers Lack Political Skills

The success of a leader depends on the team he chooses. His effectiveness also lies in trusting some who may have been part of his predecessor’s kitchen cabinet. If Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is passing through an agonising phase, it’s because he ignored those who possess formidable skills in political manoeuvering and negotiation. Many senior Congress leaders feel that by drafting in his team only those who haven’t handled political crises in the past to deal with Crisis Anna, the Prime Minister walked into a trap laid by civil society leaders and the Opposition. Some feel that those who were once associated with Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi have been kept out. While they admire both the commitment and talents of the negotiators led by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Congressmen also argue that involving experienced persons would have yielded better results. For the past few months, a high power group comprising Mukherjee, Home Minister P Chidambaram, Law Minister Salman Khurshid, Human Resources Minister Kapil Sibal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal have been dealing with various political catastrophes, including the Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev agitations. The team is adept at legalese and procedure, but none among them has the necessary experience to deal with complex, relentless social activism. For Team Pranab, excessive use of authority, instead of dialogue, or invoking statutes appears to be the best tool to defeat dissent. Even Manmohan has no experience in handling powerful social or political agitations. Congress insiders are wondering why ministers and leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad, Kamal Nath, Anand Sharma, Veerappa Moily, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Ambika Soni et al were kept out of the negotiating team. All of them are known as champions of political wrestling. They possess enough talent to tire their opponents out, and do whatever it takes to break the opposition. Both Indira and Rajiv used them to handle difficult political situations in various states as well as at the Centre. They may have got ministerial berths in Manmohan’s Cabinet, but the Prime Minister seems to be more comfortable with those who carry no past baggage.

Sonia’s Civil Society Allies Ignored

If the Government left out political leaders from the Indira-Rajiv era from the mainstream dialogue with Anna, even the few VIP civil society leaders associated with Congress President Sonia Gandhi have also become irrelevant. Some of them are members of the powerful National Advisory Council. They have always been part of the Government’s consultative process for formulating any new legislation. But when Sonia fell sick and left for a surgery abroad, the Government didn’t involve even highly vocal NAC members like Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander in the process of finalising the Lokpal Bill. Finally, Roy had to submit her version of the Bill to the Standing Committee for consideration, forcing the Prime Minister to include her speech in his proposal as well. In the absence of a direct invitation from the Prime Minister or the Government, Mander and Roy are actively participating in TV debates and pushing their own variants of the Lokpal Bill.

Manmohan’s Governor Surprise

Even as the entire nation was discussing the Lokpal Bill, the Government sprang a surprise by appointing 78-year-old K Rosaiah as the Tamil Nadu governor. The former Andhra Pradesh chief minisiter was charged by the state Anti-corruption Bureau in March for passing an order regularising occupation of prime land worth over Rs 200 crore. The Centre delayed his appointment till the court acquitted him. However, an appeal has been filed against the lower court’s order. Rosaiah is one of the four new governors appointed; two others were merely shifted from one state to another. Another surprising feature of these gubernatorial appointments is the preference given to antiquated politicians. Both Ram Naresh Yadav, a former Uttar Pradesh chief minister, and Vakkom Purushothaman, a former speaker of the Kerala Assembly, are in their mid-eighties. But the Prime Minister seems to have learned some lessons from the conduct of Hans Raj Bhardwaj, the governor of Karnataka. Manmohan has chosen as governors only those Congressmen who do not have a reputation for confrontationist posturing. Purushothaman, Yadav and Rosaiah are known for their objectivity and genteel behaviour. Even MOH Farook, the new Kerala governor, has always avoided confrontation with chief ministers. Rosaiah and Yadav have been sent to states ruled by non-Congress governments like Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh. According to top government officials, the Prime Minister was under pressure to appoint aggressive Congress leaders in various Raj Bhavans, but he resisted. He, however, agreed to move Farook to Kerala, which is now ruled by the Congress. It’s obvious that these appointments didn’t reflect the hand of Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

Ministers Make Their Own Drafts

Anna Hazare has not only made duly elected representatives irrelevant, his movement has also made the steel frame of the Indian civil services dispensable. For the first time, the political class took over the function of formulating laws and legislation. Normally, the Cabinet Secretariat and its senior officials are involved in drafting legislation, along with the officers of the concerned ministry. But this time round, the ministers themselves decided to do the job. Various drafts were circulated, written by politicians; these reflected their politics, instead of being feasible or legally robust. The newly appointed Cabinet Secretary was, in fact, learning about the contents of the proposed laws from television debates. Ministers and interlocutors were so confident of their skills that they even kept the officials from the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and the Law Ministry at bay. Only the private secretaries of the concerned ministers were trusted. But civil servants are having the last laugh as none of the drafts have cut any ice till now.

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