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Meaningless Cabinet jiggle

Published: 02nd November 2012 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st November 2012 11:13 PM   |  A+A-

It is not clear what the Cabinet reshuffle that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or, as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, at an election rally in Himachal Pradesh, wittily called him Maun Mohan Singh, and Congress party president Sonia Gandhi have engineered is supposed to indicate. Is it supposed to denote the lame duck regime’s last ditch attempt to infuse new energy into its economic reforms? Or, were the droppings and inclusions as per separate and particularist agendas?

For instance, the removal of external affairs minister S M Krishna from the Cabinet seems like a bid to mollify the United States government, which has been growingly upset about the nuclear deal leading to nothing — no huge payoffs for the nuclear deal Manmohan Singh hankered for, in the form of contracts for low-enriched uranium reactors and revival of the dying US nuclear industry. Krishna had joined defence minister A K Antony and between them the two old-fashioned, pickled in pink, ideologues had stymied the PM’s efforts for closer ties, arguing that it is best to ‘keep America at arm’s length’. Especially irksome was Antony’s stonewalling of moves to sign the Logistics Support Agreement, Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement, which Krishna supported, that prevented higher levels of military and strategic cooperation.

Salman Khursheed replacing Krishna in the MEA is at once a wilful attempt at disregarding the revelations about the trust he runs with his wife, Louise, and an obvious choice to replace the mumbling-bumbling Krishna. At least, Khursheed is articulate and won’t be at a loss for words. His time, moreover, as minister of state in the MEA in Narasimha Rao’s Cabinet, albeit with nothing much to do as a junior minister, nevertheless would have helped familiarise him to byways of the ministry that for too long has been running on policy inertia, not innovation. What new direction could he give the MEA? He can profitably impose a new workplace ethic and mindset on MEA officials requiring them to liaise with the armed forces, particularly the Integrated Defence Staff in the defence ministry.

The MEA has to-date stuck to its untenable position that foreign policy being its exclusive domain, the military has no business intruding with draft strategy papers suggesting certain foreign policy changes. This is so out of tune with the real world and trends where the hard power of the state is appreciated as both ballast for a country’s foreign policy and providing its diplomacy multiplier effect, that India has paid a high price for the MEA mandarinate’s standoffishness. Being ignorant of the nuts and bolts of conventional and strategic military prowess and imperatives has meant, for instance, that the obvious counter-measure that should have been generated long ago by the Defence-MEA combine, in response to China’s egregious proliferation of nuclear weapons and missile technologies to Pakistan, India should have promptly transferred similar technology and complete systems to Vietnam and other countries of Southeast Asia in China’s soft underbelly. This was not done; one foreign secretary, K Raghunath, deposing before the National Security Advisory Board in 1998, even called it “impracticable”. MEA’s over-respectful attitude to international norms at the cost of the national security interest in the context of our main adversary, China, behaving without restraint, is self-defeating. Correcting this aspect of his ministry should be Khursheed’s top priority. It will help if Mitt Romney is elected United States president, because Republicans are more national security-minded and will want to ramp up military cooperation with India.

Then again, what’s one to make of the honest-to-goodness Jaipal Reddy being rewarded for his artful steamrolling of a private sector oil and gas major and prime beneficiary of crony capitalism by shunting him off to Science & Technology? Of course, S&T would gain hugely from his sagacious leadership, especially if he keeps in mind the seminal fact that technology innovations are best spawned by young entrepreneurs assisted by a facilitative system, not government-owned institutions breeding mediocrity. Maybe he should think in terms of seeding an Indian mittelstand — the small and medium-sized technology firms producing cutting edge products that are the pride of Germany. They keep Germany in the technological forefront, and which model France is trying to now emulate, discarding in the process its state-driven system that obviously has not been as productive. Of course, the version of the state-driven model in India has long been bankrupt and in desperate need of dismantling. Its replacement should be an Indianised version of the mittelstand that can mesh the tech-innovative genius of individuals, incentivising them with financial support to seed small, high value, companies. He could set the Jaipal standard in the S&T sector.

Then there are Shashi Tharoor and his priceless spouse. They will provide entertainment value. Other than these changes, most of the remaining movements in the Cabinet involve the proverbial baba log — who constitute the Congress’ so-called ‘youth brigade’, and amount to little, especially as their putative leader Rahul Gandhi couldn’t be induced into joining government. These young men are where they are because of their families, not because they are mass leaders, even less because they have shown political and managerial talent. The Jyotiraditya Scindias, the Sachin Pilots, and others of that ilk have currency because of the unfortunate dynastic principle established by Jawaharlal Nehru, who set the precedent by installing Indira Gandhi as Congress president. Having become prime minister, she lost no time in cementing this succession procedure, giving the goonish Sanjay Gandhi the run of the Emergency regime and, thereafter, ensuring the rise of the more genteel Rajiv Gandhi, until now when the incubus of dynastic politics has infected the other parties as well.

These persons, it should be remembered, are products of the privileged environs of ‘Lutyen’s Delhi’, their families forming the nomenklatura and who have been indulged by the socialist nanny state founded by the Congress. They view the perks and ministerial appointments as entitlements, as rewards for being born right. Not much can be expected from this self-serving lot.

Bharat Karnad is professor at Centre for Policy Research and blogs at www.bharatkarnad.com

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