A friend of mine who had to recently visit Mantralaya on business has not been able to stop grumbling.
“Nothing moves. I tried my luck with everyone: the ministers, the bureaucrats, even the clerks and junior staff. No one takes decisions and no paper moved even an inch the entire week that I had to spend there. It was never like this.”
When I asked around, I discovered it was not just my businessman friend who was whining. Practically every politician and bureaucrat has a problem with the other and all have a common grouse – the chief minister.
As far as I can see, Prithviraj Chavan is accused by all of being over cautious and too careful by far in giving permissions and sanctioning projects and that necessarily slows down the entire movement of files and papers from one department to the other. I am told the chief minister trusts very few people and, therefore, delegating of powers and responsibilities does not happen as it should. Then, again, in the prevailing atmosphere of corruption exposés in the country, the bureaucrats are too afraid to append their signatures to documents (look at what happened in the case of the Adarsh Housing Society scam) and ministers, too, who might once upon a time have been emboldened to overrule the bureaucracy and take courageous decisions independently prefer to leave it to their officers to either move the files or otherwise, ie, put them in cold storage.
It is not surprising, then, that there is a major trust deficit between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party with the latter going public about its problems with the chief minister. The compliments have been amply returned, though Congressmen are far more discreet about pointing to the NCP’s misdemeanours. However, it is not that Congressmen do not have their own issues – the nature of their complaints against their own chief minister is by and large the same.
They are all worried about how they will win the next elections if they are unable to move papers for their constituencies and, as I understand it, the government is crawling essentially because the chief minister is hell bent upon putting systems into place that will neither need nor depend upon individuals. While there is fierce resistance to the potential curtailment of their powers by these systems, even the chief minister is having to face some immovable objects in the form of his own partymen and allies who do not allow him to go ahead with these reforms. For example, Chavan wants to clean up the corruption in the primary education system in the state by legislating for a minimum qualification (at least a post-graduate degree) for teachers and raising their salaries to at least R1 lakh per month so that that will attract the best academic talent and thus benefit poor and deprived children in villages.
But at every Cabinet meeting, his arms are twisted by both the Congress and the NCP. Not surprising; if these reforms come through, education barons in both parties will no longer be able to appoint teachers at their will and skim off the already high salaries now available to teaching staff in schools. The less qualified the appointees are, the more they will be prone to signing away half their salaries to those who did them this favour. A qualified teacher will know better and this permanent source of income will disappear overnight.
There are many other examples of the kind within this government and no one is certain whether the old systems were better or they should await the new. There is only one certainty: the status quo and the snail’s pace are proving very damaging to both the government and its allies.
In the meantime, during the course of an argument with another businessman I was challenged as he lauded Gujarat’s speedy clearances that pale Maharashtra by comparison. “Show me one Congressman who is not corrupt or facing charges of some scam or the other!” As I groped for an answer (that did require some thinking), he added, “Except Prithiviraj Chavan, of course!”
I was startled. As a journalist, I knew Chavan’s reputation but if businessmen willing to bribe their way into and out of Mantralaya, too, are beginning to acknowledge that while continually abusing the man for those very proclivities, the country cannot help but fall between two stools.
So if politics is the game of perceptions, is Chavan winning? Then why is the Congress losing?