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Entering the last lap

The government has put in the front seat a number of people who can take it forward. It’s time goals are set for the next several months, writes Chanakya.

columns Updated: Nov 04, 2012 00:09 IST

Changing the drivers of a winning team may not always be the best thing to do, but in the case of a government, it seems to be a winning formula. The recent Cabinet reshuffle may have seemed like changing the cards, as indeed people like Arvind Kejriwal mentioned, but it has been a different move altogether. It has put in the front seat a number of people who can take this government forward much faster than before. For a start, it has put in place younger ministers in key positions. This means that the bills which have been pending will hopefully get through in the next session of Parliament.

There are definitely a few things to look up to in the new Cabinet. The very important thing, to my mind, seems to be that the government has really given a lot of thought to managing parliamentary affairs. In giving that ministry to a minister who knows his business in the form of Kamal Nath, it has done a signal service in managing the next session. He is a man who has a considerable amount of clout both within his party, the allies, and even the Opposition. A great deal of time was wasted in the last round of Parliament, and this had given a handle to many critics of the government. This time, it might be a smoother run for the government.

What seems to be on the cards is that there is a push for reforms in the months left for the government. This will be helped along by the fact that there are a number of ministers who are achievers. It would also seem that the allies are not terribly unhappy with the new reshuffle. The economic ministries seem to have been given considerable thought, and this will be a huge advantage for the government. The induction of younger ministers has certainly given the government a fillip. The fact that independent charge of power, corporate affairs and information and broadcasting has been given to younger ministers certainly suggests that the government means business this time around. The ministers in these portfolios will certainly bring with them a lot of enthusiasm and verve which had been missing in the last Cabinet.

The government has also taken the bull by the horns in a makeover for the external affairs ministry. The new minister has been under a cloud for a few weeks but the fact that he has been given this important ministry suggests that the prime minister has put his stamp on this ministry. There are a number of foreign policy issues that are pending. The first and foremost is the Indian response to the American elections. There has been nothing very serious from the Indian side in this regard. There are many issues in West Asia and the South Asian region which may need attending to. The engagement with Pakistan is certainly something which should be of enormous importance to the new foreign minister. The uncomfortable situation with Sri Lanka is another problem which should be of concern to India.

The time has come, I think, for this government to begin setting goals for the next several months. The very important ones will be the economic issues. The one thing that the government has had to fight itself out of various corners has been on opening up retail and other sectors to foreign investment. It was on this that a crucial ally like the Trinamool Congress party walked out of the government. But to his credit, the prime minister held his ground on these issues, and despite severe disruptions in Parliament, he managed to steady a rocky boat. For a moment, the UPA government seemed a bit shaky but it managed to stay on course. But the real challenge for the prime minister will be to keep on course with the many challenges he will face in Parliament given that the Opposition will not give it a fighting chance.

This is the chance for the Opposition for show how it might be the real shadow Cabinet. It should act as the government in-waiting instead of taking on the government at every instance. The Opposition is no doubt in a bit of a mess with graft charges against its president Nitin Gadkari. But nevertheless, it has its charge to try and take on the government on every count it can. The fact that it cannot does not go well for it.

This way the government can speed its way ahead. Now that it has little opposition in place, it does not have much to fear. The new pack of drivers seems to have done this government a load of good. Now the next thing is to see how the way ahead seems with the new people in the drivers’ seat. This clearly is the prime minister’s imprint on a new Cabinet. There is no doubt that Rahul Gandhi too had a hand in this reshuffle. But this is very clearly Manmohan Singh’s ultimate show of strength before he bows out. And he has on his side a number of people who are starting out mint fresh as he begins his last lap in government.