Towards minimum governance

Modi might garner praise for the small size of his cabinet. But not inducting enough ministers is a recipe for disaster.

Written by Rajeev Gowda | Updated: November 8, 2014 8:18 am
modi-m Modi’s belief may be that he can run the government more efficiently through bureaucrats.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to finally expand his cabinet. Commentators expect that only a lucky dozen will make it. The ministry’s size will likely go up to less than 60, and more than 20 officially allowed slots will remain vacant. The big news is that there may be a new defence minister, which will come as a relief. Modi seems to have turned the crucial defence and finance ministries into part-time jobs. That could not have been what people expected when he promised “minimum government, maximum governance”.

While pundits gush over the small size of the cabinet, it is actually a recipe for governance failure. In a small cabinet, some ministers are overburdened. For half a year, this has been the case with crucial infrastructure departments. A young minister of state, Piyush Goyal, oversees power, coal, and new and renewable energy at a time when working out policy frameworks just for the coal sector would overwhelm a more experienced minister. At least Goyal’s portfolios are broadly related. Nitin Gadkari juggles the unrelated and weighty portfolios of shipping, road transport and rural development, while Ravi Shankar Prasad oscillates between law and communications and information technology.

How a prime minister allocates responsibilities to his cabinet colleagues, and in turn to junior ministers, tells us something about his ability to delegate. But if a quarter of cabinet slots are not even filled, that tells us something else — that perhaps there is some truth in the rumours that all decision-making is centralised within the prime minister’s office (PMO) and that ministers do not really matter.

Not expanding the cabinet fully also signals that the prime minister does not think it important to groom youngsters for the future. This is bound to demoralise MPs. It is also a slap in the face to states like Rajasthan, which elected 25 BJP MPs, but found only one (and he faces rape charges) made a minister. We would be justified in asking: Is there a talent shortage in the BJP parliamentary party? Are there not enough BJP MPs with some minimal capability and credibility that they can be inducted into the ministry?

Cabinet positions are not the only ones that remain vacant. A number of crucial appointments have not been made. These include the lokpal, the chief vigilance commissioner and the chief information commissioner. The lack of attention to filling these slots on time is indicative of Modi’s attitude towards tackling corruption, and about how little he cares for the right to information law. A part of the problem arises from the fact that some of these appointments have to be cleared by a committee, including the leader of the opposition — which the government has fought tooth-and-nail to deny to the Congress. Another glaring case is that of the National Disaster Management Authority. It currently has neither a chairman nor members, at a time when the country continually faces nature’s wrath.

Modi’s belief may be that he can run the government more efficiently through bureaucrats. He has already enhanced the power of secretaries by meeting with them directly and asking them to come up with policy ideas to share with him. But as Modi has empowered sarkari bureaucrats, he has simultaneously disempowered his ministers. This is a bad development in our cabinet system of government. Ministers now worry about whether their writ runs in their own bhavans. They are crippled by the fear that the officers who are supposed to report to them are working out separate arrangements with the PMO. Add these concerns to reports that ministers feel compelled to seek the PM or PMO’s stamp of approval for every move and measure. This has ushered in a new kind of governance paralysis, as Modi is often away on foreign- or election-related tours, and even his extra-large PMO is unable to attend to every issue in a timely manner.

Other moves strike at the essence of our administrative apparatus. One of the PM’s early diktats was to ban any officer who had served in key positions under the UPA from being given similar posts under the new NDA regime. Such a move blatantly and illogically politicises the bureaucracy. It needlessly taints those who served under the UPA when they were just doing their jobs. Turning bureaucrats into “their” men and “our” men introduces partisan politics that will soon corrode our governmental structure.

Running a complex country that is going through several simultaneous transformations like India, requires teamwork and a commitment to action rather than rhetoric. What we have seen so far of the Modi sarkar is turning out to be the opposite. Witness the casual announcement of the dismantling of the Planning Commission without a well-thought-out alternative to take its place. This work style can only lead to one outcome — minimum governance — which India can ill afford.

The writer is a Congress Rajya Sabha MP

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    Arvind
    Nov 8, 2014 at 8:57 pm
    This seems like an article penned by bureaucrat for the MP. There is too much bureaucracy in India. Too many ministers and too many departments. None serve the interests of the people of India. Anything that is cut out seems to work. I think the administrative service needs to be disbanded and re consuted with different regulations for a free and independent country
    Reply
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      Ankush
      Nov 9, 2014 at 3:21 am
      Indeed, while reading the entire article I was thinking that you must be a Congress sympathizer.End of the article has proven that :-[Also to add you say that NDMA has no chief and members .. Strange but we saw NDMA in full swing operation during the recent disasters.May be we were hallucinating ;)Defence ministry was indeed a key position to be filled and finding the right candidate was i guess of utmost importance rather than just filling up the post to please someone-- which Congress has always done.Raja remained Telecom minister long after CAG findings, No??Congress is on the verge of fading into the thin air.Better you realize before its too late.We don't want to be ruled againdepent India's new generation has decided..
      Reply
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        Chandrakant
        Nov 8, 2014 at 2:15 pm
        Congrespress News.
        Reply
        1. C
          Chandrakant
          Nov 8, 2014 at 2:15 pm
          Congrespress News.
          Reply
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            Dr Rathna
            Nov 9, 2014 at 11:19 am
            That`s the best observations and correct indication how it is going.A very good article .
            Reply
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              MRS
              Nov 8, 2014 at 7:48 am
              Advice from a Congrees Rajya Sabha-ist on how to run ministries. What has the world come to? Do hi dynasty loyalists forget their 10 year old work record in 6 months.
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                vasmah
                Nov 8, 2014 at 5:44 am
                Minimum governance, maximum chaos in the making!
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                  nagarjun_93
                  Nov 8, 2014 at 1:20 pm
                  The author simply forgot that Gadkari has taken the rural development after the demise of Munde.. and still define it as a wrong decision.. Governance is not seen in terms of number of ministers but by the delivery from the ministry.. which is being done in many by digitizing many departments
                  Reply
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                    nagarjun_93
                    Nov 8, 2014 at 1:20 pm
                    The author simply forgot that Gadkari has taken the rural development after the demise of Munde.. and still define it as a wrong decision.. Governance is not seen in terms of number of ministers but by the delivery from the ministry.. which is being done in many by digitizing many departments
                    Reply
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                      Vaddi Nagabhushanarao
                      Nov 9, 2014 at 12:01 am
                      He appears to be wrong that large cabinet in Manmohan Singh government failed to deliver and decision are vetted by sonia without any role in govt in case of what he is writing is true in bjp it is good because modi is pm that power should be with him
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                        Dr S
                        Nov 8, 2014 at 9:13 am
                        This article is a clic example of the mindset of this author and many others in the country. Why should we relate the number of MPs for a particular party (in this case, BJP) from a particular state (in this article, Rajasthan) to the number of ministers in the cabinet from the MPs from that state? Such a mentality would divide the nation, not unite it. We need to get away from such idiosyncrasies. Appointments should be on merit, not on the issues of who is from which state and how many (BJP) MPs that state has contributed to the parliament. Being appointed as a minister is a responsibility, not a privilege - Modi has said this time and again! Indian Express should bar such articles which does not take in to account the meritocracy but simply about the proportional births in the cabinet based on contribution of a particular state to the ruling parliamentary party. Amen!
                        Reply
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                          Dr S
                          Nov 8, 2014 at 9:13 am
                          This article is a clic example of the mindset of this author and many others in the country. Why should we relate the number of MPs for a particular party (in this case, BJP) from a particular state (in this article, Rajasthan) to the number of ministers in the cabinet from the MPs from that state? Such a mentality would divide the nation, not unite it. We need to get away from such idiosyncrasies. Appointments should be on merit, not on the issues of who is from which state and how many (BJP) MPs that state has contributed to the parliament. Being appointed as a minister is a responsibility, not a privilege - Modi has said this time and again! Indian Express should bar such articles which does not take in to account the meritocracy but simply about the proportional births in the cabinet based on contribution of a particular state to the ruling parliamentary party. Amen!
                          Reply
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                            SP
                            Nov 8, 2014 at 9:11 am
                            People conventionally maintain same strength of people in an organization, may be tweak it slightly. Ideal process is a zero-based budgeting, forget about previous ministries start with small number of ministers and expand it after due validation of need. Each position should have purpose and held by a person with pion for it. In UPA regime, each position was a perk and some looked at it as a license to loot.
                            Reply
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                              subu
                              Nov 8, 2014 at 7:30 pm
                              Modi's mantra has been to keep a smaller ministry after reorganizing ministries. I am sorry that an IIMB prof is not able to understand this...
                              Reply
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                                sundar
                                Nov 8, 2014 at 3:25 am
                                Very valid concerns and the PM's rock star status is giving him too much room to operate. Our media and business houses give him a lot of leeway because they value short term snippets and policy relief respectively over longer term insutional credibility and capacity building which is a huge pity. Govts will come and go but insutions are what make a country. The govt of the day only decides policy but not a country. Even people like i who voted for him are quietly apprehensive of his style....
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                                  Strange and
                                  Nov 8, 2014 at 3:05 pm
                                  fine, fine. Modi is terrible. But you know what? No one gives a for the Congress. You had 67 years to destroy the country with Nehru hi nonsense. Please rest now. We shall manage without your expertise!
                                  Reply
                                  1. S
                                    Strange and
                                    Nov 8, 2014 at 3:05 pm
                                    fine, fine. Modi is terrible. But you know what? No one gives a for the Congress. You had 67 years to destroy the country with Nehru hi nonsense. Please rest now. We shall manage without your expertise!
                                    Reply
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