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SAME OLD, SAME OLD...

By suhel_seth on Jun. 4th, 2009

The Republic of India finally has a Government in place  but not one of surprises. One would  have expected a cleansing of sorts but that has not  happened. Nor has competence been  rewarded adequately. Which should have, given the  mandate that the Congress Party  received during the elections. But this is perhaps  where Indian frailty rests. I, for one, cannot  understand how some real bright people have been given  some silly portfolios. Chidambaram  as Home Minister is a first-rate choice. He is sharp  and has proved himself in every job he  has handled. But then so is Kamal Nath. Kamal was  India's feisty Commerce Minister in the previous regime and has been credited with improving India's bit in every area: be it exports or the stand-off at WTO. To now move Kamal to Infrastructure is a bit of a come down but then knowing Kamal he will make a fine job of it and there is a lot that needs to be done in the area of infrastructure.

 The wise old man of Indian politics, Pranab Mukherjee is the new Finance Minister of India: a job that he once held 25 years ago. Much is expected from him since there is perhaps no other politician who is so deft in the art of obtaining (and delivering) consensus. Ambika Soni did a superlative job as the Tourism Minister and one hoped she should remain either in that job or for that matter Health but she has been given Information and Broadcasting. What is however shocking is that S M Krishna, a former Chief Minister of one of India's Southern states, Karnataka was taken out of the woodwork and made External Affairs Minister: a disaster to my mind. Krishna was not rewarded for intellect but for loyalty and this is my worry. Not one young minister has been given cabinet rank. The average age of this cabinet is 66 when the average age of the voter is about 32 so the disconnects are apparent.

 What I am even more concerned about, is the fact, that every Congress Government has marginalized constitutional offices. Indira Gandhi destroyed the judiciary when she was Prime Minister. And then in the last term, Sonia Gandhi pitchforked a non-descript and dodgy politician as President of India only because she was a woman: Pratibha Patil, India's President is not just insipid but comes after a man who was truly inspirational and engaging, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. But then this is what the problem with governance in India is. We are still a feudal society even where democracy is concerned and the fact you have Dr Manmohan Singh, easily one of our most honourable politicians, as Prime Minister, some essentials never change. And the loyalty card is now carrying indescribable premia.

 Take for instance, the selection of Meira Kumar as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, India's lower house of Parliament. She is a five-term MP only because of who she is. Not because of what she has ever done. To appoint someone on the back of mere tokenism (so that we now have another woman in a high constitutional office) is not just belittling to the office but completely destroys both the efficacy and the effectiveness of such an office. For the Prime Minister to then introduce her (and justify her selection) saying she is a woman, a Dalit (India's downtrodden class) and the daughter of one of India's legendary politicians (who by the way, forgot to pay income tax throughout his life) is only symptomatic of the political system prevalent in India. So while the whole world hails India's democracy, and the fact that we now have women in high office and have thus broken the glass ceiling, the truth is somewhat chilling. In this present Parliament, of the 543 MPs, only 58 are women and of these 58, 36 are either widows, daughters, wives or daughters-in-law. The question that thus begs to be answered is are we a democracy or a convenient feudal setup? The answer lies in the statistics.

So while we wait for this Government to kick-in, many will question the legacy that the Congress will leave behind? And in that respect, how much more will they destroy in terms of high offices before they build again? There is no question that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have done a commendable job but what prompted them to then make two successive mistakes is something that will remain an enduring mystery!