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Old's not always gold

We need to stop this veneration of the tried and tested. At times, young ministers should be given important portfolios. Chanakya writes.

columns Updated: Jul 28, 2012 22:51 IST
Hindustan Times
cabinet reshuffle,Chanakya,Rahul Gandhi

There's nothing like a Cabinet reshuffle to create such wild excitement among those of us in the media. At the first hint of an imminent one, we begin to speculate, each of us claiming more knowledge of the changes than the other. I have it from the highest quarter, each of us will say. Not a pretty sight at times, I can tell you. Along comes the day, and what do we find? The carousel has gone round and round and we have the same senior ministers sitting on different horses. Aha, I told you so, we will exclaim.

But what we don't seem to notice is the vast pool of talent that lies behind the usual suspects who are Union Cabinet ministers. The largely unseen and unsung ministers of state, especially those who are relatively young. Now that Rahul Gandhi has accepted that he will take up more responsibility, and indeed there is a clamour for him to do so, let us have a look at this particular team B who surely can do more than stay in the shadows of the big guns forever.

Many of our young ministers are highly qualified and articulate. Are you telling me that they cannot contribute much more to public life? Or is it that they are not being allowed to do so by their seniors who rarely want to give away any little piece of their portfolio? This is wrong. I feel they ought to make the maximum use of the political talent we have. At least, they will bring a fresh perspective to politics since people have got jaded with the present brand. I get the feeling that some of our leading politicians have been getting one major portfolio after the other and not doing a great job of each. But will they delegate to the younger ministers? Not in a month of Mondays.

We need a new brand of politics, not more reshuffles. We have a sheaf of young talent from minister of state for communications and information technology Sachin Pilot, minister of state for commerce and industry Jyotiraditya Scindia, and minister of state for road transport and highways Jitin Prasada to name a few. Why do we not see more of them debating in Parliament, and making policy decisions? It's because not enough work is delegated to them.

It is not my case that the older generation makes way for them. No one, not even you and I, will give up such important portfolios in a hurry. I am only saying that it is a colossal waste to not use these ministers more effectively. It should be these articulate young ministers who are sent on trips abroad to represent India's case. It would make all the difference for the world outside to see these young faces, creating an altogether more positive impression of a dynamic and growing India. In domestic politics, they would bring fresh thinking.

India has the largest youth population in the world. If these ministers were more visible, I bet you my bottom dollar that we would see many more bright, educated young people wanting to join politics. In a well-run corporation, a manager would be considered unfit for the job if he did not utilise the younger workers. In the Alice in Wonderland world of our politics, it would seem that the older lot take on too much yet won't make sure that the young are productive. They should be cracking the whip to keep team B on its toes. Instead, they are kept in mothballs till they lose interest or become too timid to take decisions.

But for this I blame the younger ministers too. They ought to be more proactive and should make a fuss if they are denied their fair quota of work. Party presidents should stop talking about getting the youth vote if they can't ensure that their younger, electorally viable flock cannot be put to maximum use.

I think we need to stop this veneration of the tried and tested. At times, young ministers should be given important portfolios and perhaps the older ones should be given mentoring and party work. It will not be an easy decision to take but one which must be taken. Motivating the young ministers to come up with innovative ideas seems an alien concept to our political class and this cuts across all party lines. I think there is enough work in all ministries to be evenly distributed among the senior minister and his juniors. It is just a craven worship of age and 'daddy knows best' attitude that stops this from happening.

The gigantic problems of rural India are in the hands of bureaucrats who are just beginning their careers, corporate CEOs are stepping down in favour of younger ones, our children no longer hold parents' knowledge in awe thanks to the internet. I hope the next reshuffle will be shelved and what we get is a reallocation of duties within each ministry.

First Published: Jul 28, 2012 22:10 IST