In a meeting with his ministers of state (MoSes) on Tuesday, Prime minister Manmohan Singh will attempt to rework their roles in the government that are now dependent on the style of the cabinet ministers they work under.
Several MoSes have complained to the PM that the cabinet ministers are not allotting them enough work. “I am not even given sufficient office space, not to talk of any work,” says Sultan Ahmad, MoS for Tourism. The Trinamool Congress leader is compiling a long list for the meeting with the PM.
Congress juniors are not as forthcoming on the issue, but they do feel underemployed and some, who have outstanding academic qualifications and drive, even wonder how long will it take before they can contribute anything substantial to policymaking. “Worse still, once the cabinet minister wants to be in control of everything, bureaucrats don’t bother to keep us in the loop,” a Congress MoS, who didn’t want to be identified, said. Even when the ministers of states have clearly marked work portfolios, the cabinet ministers tend to usurp them when it comes to policymaking.
Resentment among the MoSes is not uniform though.
Some from regional partners of the Congress get along well with their cabinet ministers. “My experience of working with Ghulam Nabi Azad (cabinet minister) has been absolutely fantastic,” said Dinesh Trivedi, MoS for health. Trivedi is from the Trinamool.
The work that comes to a junior minister currently depends a lot on the style of the cabinet minister.
For instance, given S.M. Krishna’s passive style of functioning as external affairs minister, Shashi Tharoor has his plate full.
“I am fortunate that MoSes in the MEA have a specified allocation of responsibilities, which gives us absolutely no shortage of work,” said Tharoor. It’s said, in the lighter vein, that since there are so many countries in the world, no one can be without work in the ministry.
But things are different in ministries where cabinet ministers are going full throttle, trying to have their individual stamp on policymaking.
For instance, Industries and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma is miserly when it comes to delegation of work to his MoS Jyotiraditya Scindia.
D. Purandeswari, who had made a mark in the human resource development (HRD) ministry during UPA-I when Arjun Singh was the cabinet minister, now has much less to do under a proactive cabinet minister in Kapil Sibal.
In contrast, Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Petroleum Minister Murli Deora depute ministers of states to answer questions in Parliament even when they are present. Many don’t even allow that.
The attempts of the PM and the Congress is to detach the scope of the junior ministers from style of the cabinet minister.
“When a government is formed and portfolios allocated, it takes some time for the senior ministers and their deputies to understand each other, their strengths, weaknesses and decision-making prowess,” said Ambika Soni, union minister for information and broadcasting.
“A mechanism will be evolved where ministers of state will be able to assist their senior ministers in a more able manner in processes of decision-making,” she said.