May 24, 2009 12:42:23 am
It was not so much Dr Manmohan Singhs new ministers but the Tamil tableau that enthralled me last week. I found myself watching it as if it were the IPL final. From the moment that the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu was wheeled into 10 Janpath bearing yellow lilies for Madame to the moment he sulked off to Chennai followed by family and friends,I watched and watched. What fascinated me was the honest display of venality,the open demand for what they call ATM ministries. He did not just want his children to become ministers in the Government of India,he wanted them to get ministries of their choice and more. It was like one of those childrens birthday parties where some spoilt brat throws the return present back in the face of the birthday girl. Its frightening to think what Mr Karunanidhi may have demanded if he had more than seventeen seats in Parliament.
If only Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister could have told him to take his MPs and shove off. If only they could have told him that they could see no reason why his son,daughter or nephew should become ministers at all. If they could only have told him that the DMK ministers in the last government were lousy and they were not going to inflict them on the people of India once more.
Alas,they seem unable to say boo to anyone so they give us a déjà vu government. But,there is some good news. When I heard that Arjun Singh was being kicked out I got up and did the bhangra. As someone who believes that the most important ministry in the Government of India is HRD I believe that a person of real competence must get HRD this time or we have had it. Thanks to Arjun Singh and Murli Manohar Joshi we have lost ten vital years in which almost nothing was done to sort out the mess in Indian education.
The new minister has his work cut out. He must end the licence raj that the ministry continues to operate and he must allow private investment to build the 1,500 universities we should have started building ten years ago. He must abolish the AICTE (All India Council of Technical Education) as it is an anachronism that serves mostly to block technical education. And he must be personally involved in encouraging educational institutes of all kinds to bloom and flower. This will not happen as long as officials in Delhi decide such minute matters as salaries that colleges can pay professors.
Personally,I was disappointed to see a déjà vu cabinet in which there is a preponderance of what TV anchors like to call Congress heavyweights. These are mostly tired old men who have shown us many times before that they are incapable of either new ideas or new methods of governance. The Prime Minister must have reasons for still wanting them around but could he do the country a favour and keep them out of ministries that deal with infrastructure,health,poverty alleviation and urbanisation. Our problems in these areas are too serious to be dealt with offhandedly for yet another five years.
Meanwhile,it is time for the Prime Minister to deliver on his promise of administrative reforms. We can no longer afford to pay for the convoluted systems of governance that have remained unchanged since the days of the Raj. Why should Indians need to fill up fifty-page forms to get a passport when everywhere in the world one page suffices? Why should everything that the Government of India does involve ten times more procedures than are needed anywhere else? Why should every government office still have cupboards full of dusty old files in this age of computers? Think of the forests we destroy annually to keep the Government of Indias paperwork going? His colleague,P. Chidambaram,once told me that the bottom ten items in any ministrys agenda could be eliminated painlessly. Its time to eliminate.
It is time also to stop wasting taxpayers money on the government propaganda machine that was set up in the days when we slavishly emulated the Soviet Union. We must get rid of the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and everything that goes with it including those silly Censor Board certificates on DVDs. There must be at least fifty government departments that can be done away with easily. They exist only because no Prime Minister so far has shown the courage to reform governance. Dr Manmohan Singh has the mandate to do what he wants on this front and a very efficient instrument in the form of a reinvented Planning Commission. Let him get on with it.
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