Special Interest Driven UPA Resembles a Sinking Ship
Srinivasan Ramani, Newsclick, July 14, 2011
A rudder-less United Progressive Alliance has convinced no one that it is acquiring some kind of anchor by shuffling its crew on a burning deck.
That certainly seems to be the most common reaction to the "ministerial reshuffle" enacted mid-term by UPA captains- prime minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. UPA-sympathetic voices were happy that certain names that were no longer possible to be defended for their steering of various ministries have been finally asked to disembark.
Siddharth Varadarajan in his normative piece about the UPA a couple of days ago, wrote that it needed the "mother of all reshuffles" to take it out of the morass that the government finds itself in. Even if many of his points were well taken, it was just "well-wishing" and many of the changes he had asked for (and to be fair, did not anticipate) never happened.
What is unsaid about how ministerial berths have been provided in the UPA is that they have got little to do with the merit of the person or his/her position on various policies. With the UPA in particular, the key to ministerial allocation generally is the ability to act for special interests. The stench of corruption and malfeasance that has pervaded the UPA has much to do with the fact that special interests - corporate mostly - have controlled policy making in the government. That is not going to change by the addition/subtraction of a few crew members in the UPA mother ship.
Consider the top four positions in the government - finance, defense, external affairs and home. Except for the defense ministry helmed by the "unimpeachably honest" AK Antony, the rest of the ministries cannot say that they had the best interests of their country's citizens in mind in the manner they implemented policy decisions. The finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has steadfastly refused to take on the most pressing problem in the country - inflation and has presented budget after corporate friendly budget. Mukherjee also has a finger in every policy pie, heading a slew of EGoMs, including the one that decided to hand over natural gas pricing on a platter to Reliance enabling them to garner a massive super profit. The home minister P.Chidambaram has been a disaster in handling issues that require high political awareness and sensitivity. His handling of the Maoist challenge, the Telangana issue, the Kashmir imbroglio last year suggest that his imperious ways of functioning have yielded little dividends in solving intractable problems of this nature.
The allies of the Congress are no better, in fact quite abject as in the case of the Trinamul Congress. Before the ascension of Dinesh Trivedi to the railways ministry of the cabinet, the senior-most minister at the helm was Mukul Roy of the same party. His predecessor, leader and current West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee was pathetic in her handling of the ministry presiding over numerous railway accidents and mishaps. With her attentions fixated at Writers' Buildings, she had little concern about passenger safety, train punctuality, and in her term, the Railways regressed as an institution. If she had shown the nadir of sensitivity blaming passengers for their own deaths because of a stampede in the New Delhi Railway Station last year, her junior party member and minister of state Mukul Roy emulated her by refusing to visit the site of accident in Fatehpur in Uttar Pradesh a couple of days ago. There is little confidence that Mamata Banerjee's successor, Dinesh Trivedi would be any better for the institution that still employs the largest number of workers in the country. If anything, one can expect a further movement towards greater privatisation and commercialisation of the institution to the detriment of the interests of the employees and passengers.
The one minister who ruffled the feathers (relatively) of the widespread special interests with the UPA was former environment minister Jairam Ramesh. Exhibiting some spine in taking on vested interests who had always had it easy in circumventing and even formulating environmental norms and rules for their own benefits, Ramesh had earned the respect of grassroots organisers and people who had been affected by displacement and environmental degradation in various parts of the country. His "activist" presence - a derogatory reference to his methods of consulting stakeholders and environmental groups while deciding upon clearances - miffed no less than the "ace reformer" prime minister Manmohan Singh. And it is no wonder that he has been promptly removed from the post and shifted to rural development. One hopes (against hope) that his successor would show the same gumption to take on special interests - especially large real estate groups, mining companies and other assorted conglomerates willing to partake into the yields of primitive accumulation - but the peremptory shift does not yield confidence.
Photograph Coutesy: yourbdnews.com