Why the Cabinet reshuffle is all about rewarding Sonia loyalists
Even as it presides over a troubled economy, a sliding rupee, and crippling policy inertia, the government is busy with its jobs-for-the-boys routine, rewarding loyalty.
You’d think a government that has been pilloried for four years for rotten governance on top of a string of corruption scandals would have learnt its lesson and get its act together at least in the months leading up to the next elections.
But even as it presides over a troubled economy, a sliding rupee, and crippling policy inertia, the government is busy with its usual jobs-for-the-boys routine. Even today’s cabinet reshuffle, intended to fill the void created by the exit of scam victims and the exit of coalition partners, may not succeed in "sprucing up" the government’s image in the way analysts say it will. Loyalty to the party leaders, it appears, will be the primary determinant of qualifications for ministership.
In fact, the government’s laid-back lethargy and the eagerness to reward its loyalists is proving infectious, with even the bureaucratic network working overtime to help itself and feather its nest at public expense.
Nothing illustrates the lack of earnestness that characterises ministerial appointments as the conduct of CP Joshi, who stepped down as minister for road, transport and highways, and railways ahead of the cabinet reshuffle.
For five weeks now, since he took over the railway ministry from Pawan Kumar Bansal (who was running his own jobs-for-the-boys program, and using his nephew as frontman for payoffs), Joshi has been virtually AWOL. "The fact is, reports The Hindu, "Dr Joshi never put his heart into the job … For almost five weeks, little or no work was done."
Evidently, Joshi barely attended office in all these weeks, except for a flurry of activity towards the last few days, when he began dispensing favours to his constituency in Rajasthan—all at public expense—in preparation for the upcoming Assembly elections.
In fact, Joshi was apparently unenthused about his railway ministry job -- because it interfered with his plans for protecting his political turf in Rajasthan, where he is pitching for the chief minister's post.
That a government that is already on the mat should have appointed such a listless minister for the job—at a time when its poor record of governance has been in sharp focus—is beyond belief. The fact that he has been eased out now doesn't go far enough to redress the original sin of the infliction of his appointment on the country.
It isn't just ministerial appointments. A whole lot of other "jobs for the boys" postings are being lined up for the bureaucratic babus too, although one of the more high-profile efforts to set up a social media cell has run into a spot of rough weather.
Evidently, the intention behind the information and broadcasting ministry’s move to set up a social media wing that was independent of the Press Information Bureau was to "rehabilitate more officials and bureaucrats", and the Planning Commission has raised the red flag on it, the Times of India reports.
The Planning Commission also wondered why the I&B ministry was pitching for a dedicated social media wing—and seeking sanction to give tablets, laptops and smartphones (all at public expenditure) to the babus—when, in fact, most ministries had their own social media cell.
In a note to the Finance Ministry, the Planning Commission noted that "the magnitude of procurement of such items is questionable".
A slew of other high-level bureaucratic appoints are also waiting to be made, and although some of them are important ones that are intended to clear the bottlenecks that are clogging up policy implementation, particularly in the coal ministry and in infrastructure projects, others have the whiff of providing yet more jobs for the boys in the year leading up to elections.
Over the next three weeks, according to media reports, the Centre will likely set up a railway tariff authority, a coal regulator and a road regulator, all of which are intended to grease the tracks for policy implementation in the crucial infrastructure ministries.
The railway tariff authority, for instance, will be a six-member body made up retired railway officials and be headed by a former bureaucrat. But if the railway ministry has its way, the tariff authority will only have an "advisory role" rather than regulatory powers – ostensibly because the latter would require a change in the legislation and be time-consuming.
Of course, that would not go all the way towards accelerating tariff reforms to make the railways financially viable – which was the stated intention behind setting up such an authority in the first place.
But, then again, it will probably serve the useful purpose of providing jobs for yet more babus.
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