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PM must rein in ministers

The junior ministers should learn how to conduct themselves from Pranab Mukherjee. The prime minister must not allow ministers to make announcements that put his government in a spot, writes Pankaj Vohra.
Hindustan Times | By Pankaj Vohra
UPDATED ON JUN 28, 2009 11:33 PM IST

Some of the new ministers appear to be in a great hurry to articulate their agenda for the first 100 days. HRD minister Kapil Sibal has launched a massive media exercise to spell out his priorities. In the process, he has announced the controversial move to do away with the class ten board examinations. Eliminating a needless board exam makes eminent sense. But this objective cannot be achieved without reaching a workable consensus on the issue. Education is not entirely under the Centre. The states have to endorse this and this may prove tough for the government.

But Kapil needs to be supported for at least taking the initiative to bring about educational reforms. Education has long been in the stranglehold of leftist academics who have pursued their own agendas. Therefore, it has to be freed of needless interference and made more inclusive. The BJP failed to do this because it has very few academics with the credentials or credibility. But the Congress can muster enough support from within to ensure that education becomes more inclusive and meaningful and keep the Marxists and Hindu communalists at bay. This would ensure that subjects like history and political science would be more factual and authentic.

Kapil has the intellect and drive to bring about changes. He should pay a little more attention to his methods so that what he has visualised is also actualised. Unfortunately, a fellow minister has come out against his proposals. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh who should be minding his own ministry (business) has criticised Kapil’s initiatives to the media. He should have expressed his views either in a meeting with his colleague or in the Council of ministers. Instead he has created the impression that the government is divided on the subject. Earlier, he tried similar tactics against Ambika Soni while she was Culture and Tourism minister. Jairam maybe well meaning but he is not the repository of all intellect and information.

Similarly, Prithviraj Chavan, the Earth Sciences minister created an unnecessary scare by going public about the possibility of a failed monsoon. No minister has done such a thing before. It is not for the government to create a scare or uncertainty amongst people on the basis of doubtful data. Ministers should not create needless controversies.

M.Veerapa Moily, the Law minister too is on slippery ground when he hinted that there could be a legislation to make judges declare their assets. If the government plans to do such a thing, it should go ahead and bring in the legislation.

These controversies have arisen on the eve of the Parliament session where Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the most political of the Congress leaders, will present his people-friendly budget. The junior ministers should learn how to conduct themselves from him. The Prime Minister must not allow ministers to make announcements that put his government in a spot. The ministers must set an example for fellow Parliamentarians.

Matters within the Congress party require greater attention since the vacancies caused by some of the general secretaries becoming ministers need to be filled. The much-awaited revamping of the AICC appears to have been delayed for the time being. Hopefully Ms Sonia Gandhi will use the opportunity to introduce many corrective measures to streamline the functioning of the party.

In this context, it will be interesting to see whether the two principles set by the late Rajiv Gandhi are invoked once again. For instance, Rajiv was in favour of one-man, one-post. But, of late, many ministers as well as others have been holding multiple charges both within the government and the party. The only exception to this rule can be for the Congress president. Everyone else must fall in line since a wrong perception has been created about importance of even non-entities.

Finally, the Congress chief must review whether Rajya Sabha seats should be given to defeated Lok Sabha candidates. This rule has been flouted in the past in respect of people like Oscar Fernandes, Shivraj Patil and the late P.M. Sayeed. It should not be breached now. New persons should get a chance to serve the party.

The government and the party also must take greater care in selecting new Governors. The first preference should be given to politicians. There should be no hurry in rehabilitating bureaucrats as was the case last time. This government has a decisive mandate. So the expectations are higher. Between us.

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