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Striking a very fine balance

Manmohan Singh, whose government has been elected because of his clean image, does not want his Cabinet to have any taint attached to it. He does not want any of the pulls and pressures he faced last time when his party had only 145 members in Parliament. Pankaj Vohra elaborates.

india Updated: May 24, 2009 23:30 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The 19 ministers who were sworn in along with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday provide an indication that the new UPA government was going to be both image-conscious and performance-oriented.

The refusal of the UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, and Dr Manmohan Singh to succumb to pressure from its Dravidian ally, the DMK, has sent a clear signal that the new dispensation was willing to do business only with those who see reason and do not resort to blackmail. The DMK consequently decided to stay away but it is obvious that beyond a point it cannot afford to be rigid because its supremo M. Karunanidhi realises that the Tamil Nadu government’s survival is directly dependent on its ally — the Congress that has 35 MLAs in the 234-member house. The DMK has 95.

On the other hand, the AIADMK has 66 members and the PMK 18.

Theoretically if the Congress was to switch sides, the government will fall.

Therefore, it did not surprise anyone when DMK leaders, under instructions from their boss, attended the swearing-in ceremony. It is only a matter of time before differences between the two allies are sorted out.

Karunanidhi, an astute politician, has his own compulsions for making unreasonable demands, the main one being his desire to settle issues regarding succession during his lifetime.

The DMK faces huge infighting on account of the DMK chief’s two sons — Stalin and Azhagiri — not getting along and his nephew, Dayanidhi Maran, having political ambitions of his own. He also wants to ensure his daughter, Kanimozhi’s future. Besides that, some of the DMK ministers in the last government did not enjoy a good reputation.

In this context, Singh, whose government has been elected because of his clean image, does not want his Cabinet to have any taint attached to it. He does not want any of the pulls and pressures he faced last time when his party had only 145 members in Parliament.

The decision not to encourage Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan to join the government is also driven by the principle of this clean image. Besides, there is a strong section in the party which feels that keeping the three former socialists out will help the Congress restore its lost glory in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

If given a chance to revive themselves, the three leaders will encroach on what could be the Congress’ space. It may also do the two Yadav leaders some good if they do not have the responsibility of running a ministry. They will be able to introspect.

There is a view within the Congress that Lalu’s party should be broken as he is looking vulnerable and Raghuvansh Prasad Singh whose performance as a minister was considered good should be inducted into the government. But the Prime Minister and Mrs Gandhi will have a final say on this. Coming back to the new ministry, the only omission was that no one from UP, which returned 21 MPs of the Congress to the Lok Sabha, made it in the first round. One would have expected someone like Salman Khurshid and Beni Prasad Verma to be among the ministers. Salman, because he is a liberal Muslim face and someone whose performance as MoS in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government was outstanding and Verma, because of his political worth. Maybe they will find a berth on Tuesday.

The new ministry appears balanced. There are six former Chief Ministers—A.K.Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Sharad Pawar, Sushil Kumar Shinde, S.M.Krishna and Veerappa Moily — who bring to the table a lot of experience. Of them, three are from the Rajya Sabha like the Prime Minister. Therefore, there cannot be much criticism of giving Rajya Sabha MPs undue weightage. The Congress sought votes by projecting Manmohan Singh. The people have responded.

A clear message has been given to the youth who have been elected by inducting nine ministers with a youth Congress past. The message is that if they perform consistently and adhere to the party’s ideals, they could emulate their seniors.

The nine — Ambika Soni, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma, Sharad Pawar, A.K. Antony, Mamata Banerjee, Kamal Nath, P. Chidabaram and Vyalar Ravi — were associated with the Youth Congress in some capacity or the other. Pranab Mukheree was never in the Youth Congress but he joined Indira Gandhi’s Cabinet in 1972 when he was in his early 30s. He is the most experienced.

C.P. Joshi has been rewarded for his contribution to the organisation. He won the Lok Sabha despite losing by one vote in the 2008 Vidhan Sabha elections. The joke doing the rounds at that time was that his wife and driver had not voted in those polls. Anand Sharma and B.K. Handique have been elevated to Cabinet rank in view of their good showing last time.

The second list of ministers is expected to be as balanced. Like in the first, the stamp of the PM, Mrs Gandhi and Rahul will be evident. But it will be good performance that will ultimately count. Between us.