Half-Empty or Half-Full is dilemma in politics and babudom

Vacancies and the drift of the day as posts gather dust in musty government offices.
Union Minister for Home Affairs Amit Shah and BJP chief JP Nadda (File Photo | PTI)
Union Minister for Home Affairs Amit Shah and BJP chief JP Nadda (File Photo | PTI)

Vacancies and the drift of the day as posts gather dust in musty government offices. Except for the few chairs that have been swept and upholstered for apna apparatchiks, spots in important bodies like the BJP parliamentary board, the party, the vigilance commission, the judiciary, the security services et al are as vacant as a sycophant’s brain. In the East, the political weather app records fair sky, no clouds or chance of rain.

Heavy, Not Hitting
The country of 1.3 billion people is facing a talent famine. Though India is the world’s fifth largest economy, its ruling party, judiciary, and bloated bureaucracy can’t find eminently suitable persons to fill vacancies. It has the largest Council of Ministers. Modi Sarkar doesn’t seem to believe in Agli Bar since over a dozen ministers are holding two or more portfolios because there are no qualified and credible leaders named in the fortune cookies. There are empty chairs gathering cobwebs in the BJP Parliamentary Board for the past five years.

Soon after the last Monsoon Session, BJP insiders were expecting that party boss JP Nadda would use his presidential powers to fill the five vacancies in the 11-member body.  But Nadda, who has run through almost half his three-year term, is in no hurry. The board’s seven members are Nadda, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and general secretary BL Santosh who is on deputation from the RSS. The board was last reconstituted by Amit Shah when he took over as the party chief in August 2014 from Rajnath Singh. He re-jigged the Board. He dropped veterans such as Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi and inducted Shivraj Singh Chouhan and JP Nadda. 

When M Venkiah Naidu became the vice-president, another chair fell vacant. Later, Ananth Kumar, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley died. Recently, another board member Thawar Chand Gehlot, leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha, was appointed Karnataka Governor. In his inscrutable wisdom, Shah has decided against filling the jobs. Ever since Nadda got the catbird seat in January 2020, he is in meditation mode over new nominations. It is perhaps for the first time in BJP’s history that it is running on half tank. It is the parliamentary board that decides policies and chooses the chief ministers, leaders of Assemblies and Rajya Sabha and MLA candidates. It hasn’t met formally for the past two years. The last palaver was before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. According to the saffron netas, Modi and Shah are still seeking trustworthy and clean leaders who can take impartial decisions. They are also looking for women, Dalits and minority leaders to give patriarchy a new spin. At the moment, it doesn’t have a single woman member. Perhaps, it is because the party is working so smoothly under Modi-Shah that internal democracy seems de rigueur only when consensus at the top is missing. When and if that’ll happen is anyone’s guess..   

Retire unhurt but search is on
No change is good change? It is intriguing that Modi is chucking out old wine for older wine. Most important posts in the PMO and other sarkari departments and bodies have been filled by superannuated officials enjoying multiple extensions, often at the last minute. It seems talent bankruptcy isn’t confined to the BJP. The bureaucracy, too, is a victim of a similar paucity. Most desk jockeys working in sensitive departments like IB, R&AW, NSA etc are Fevicol favorites. Some big enchiladas in the NITI Aayog and the Defence establishment have received more than two extensions, thereby denying other qualified officers their due promotions. Babudom is mighty pissed at the government’s inability to fill vacant posts. For example, the ever-important Vigilance Commission has one just instead of three members—an acting Central Vigilance Commissioner who is a banker.

The posts were advertised in June but no date was fixed for the selection panel meeting which is headed by the PM, with the HM and the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha as members. According to the buzz in the corridors of power, there are too many retired officers from banks, the revenue service and IAS who are lobbying for the plum posts. One of them is the Ed who is expected to hang up his boots in November. There are more pencil pushers looking rewards for services rendered to political bosses in the past few years. Modi has kept at arm’s length controversial officials who boast their close association with the power duo. Since the Vigilance Commission is a powerful body, no senior official in the Central government or PSU can be appointed unless he or she is green lighted by the Commission.

Honour restored, not fully 
The Judiciary, the third pillar of democracy, to its dismay finds its benches are not packed fully. It took almost three years for the Supreme Court to get nine vacancies filled — but judicial history was made with a large number of SC judges sworn in a single day. Yet all High Courts are working at just 60 per cent of sanctioned strength. According to the Law Ministry data submitted to Parliament, as many as over 400 of 1,080 sanctioned posts for HC judges are blank. When it comes to lower courts, 24,247 posts have been sanctioned but 4,928 are sitting empty. Even semi-judicial bodies and tribunals are reeling under massive vacancies. CJI NV Ramana confronted the Centre with a list of 240 vacancies of chairpersons, judicial and technical members of tribunals across the country. He reminded the Centre in open court that the slots remain unfilled despite the recommendations of names by selection committees headed by sitting SC judges.

Khela Hobe interval
Is there a lull before the next storm in West Bengal? Both Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Governor Jagdeep Dhankar have announced an uneasy ceasefire. They had never wasted an opportunity to go at each other’s throats. Just before the run up to the elections, there were hundreds of mutually recriminatory posts on social media. On July 5, Dhankar tweeted angrily against the TMC government: ‘Nothing can be more worrisome and disturbing aspect that crores have been spent with just no audit since GTA @MamataOfficial came into being. All reports that GTA is ‘den of corruption’ and all aspects call for exemplary probe investigation so as to promote accountability.” Didi had called Dhankar a “corrupt man” since he was charged in the 1996 Jain Hawala case involving a diary that named politicians who had received kickbacks— a charge he denies.

“This Governor’s name was in the Jain Hawala case. But they have gone to court, cleared it from the court. There is a PIL. But the PIL is pending. What do you want to know? He is a corrupt man, I am sorry to say. All corruption-oriented man. Why does the Centre allow a Governor like this? Take out the charge sheet and see if his name was there or not,” Mamata had told reporters. The sudden silence now suggests they have forgotten old grouses. Mamata dropped in at the Raj Bhavan on July 14. The two adversaries met for over an hour after almost three years sans meddlesome mandarins. Dhankar’s office tweeted soon after “Hon’ble Chief Minister @MamataOfficial called on Hon’ble Governor Shri Jagdeep Dhankar at Raj Bhavan today. The two had an hour-long interaction without aides.” Since then the Governor hasn’t castigated either the CM or the TMC government. In return, despite ED’s action on her nephew over the weekend,  Didi and her supporters are not longer taking nasty post shots at the Governor, the PM and the HM. Has diatribe been replaced by civilised dialogue in Amar Sonar Bangla? Watch this space.   

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