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Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Raja-Baalu episode: Forget clean govt

Did the PM express reservations against including A Raja and T R Baalu in his council of ministers?

Written by Bibek Debroy |
May 25, 2009 7:26:53 pm

Did the PM express reservations against including A Raja and T R Baalu in his council of ministers? Surely,that’s as important an issue as the number of cabinet ministers and MoS slots that the DMK obtains? Both the PM and Janardan Dwivedi subsequently said who is nominated is a prerogative of the allies (like the DMK). Negotiations are only about portfolios,not specific individuals.

If that is the case,why were the names of Raja and Baalu raked up? Was it only the irresponsible media cooking up a controversy over nothing? That doesn’t sound plausible. Circumstantial evidence suggests the PM did voice reservations. If not,someone in the PMO voiced them on his behalf.

Why were there reservations about Raja and Baalu? It couldn’t have been inefficiency. There is no evidence an efficiency test was taken for ministers in the first UPA government. Had such a test indeed been applied,several other ministers should also have been included in the ‘inefficient’ group along with Raja and Baalu.

Instead,media reports,citing PMO and Congress sources,have referred to Raja and Baalu being “tainted”. Presumably,they didn’t become tainted in the interregnum between the two UPA governments. They were tainted because of their actions during the first UPA government. Why wasn’t action taken then? Was it because the DMK was needed more during the first UPA than during the second?

And if Raja and Baalu are indeed tainted,surely the issue isn’t of specific portfolios,but their non-inclusion in the cabinet entirely. Unless one is making out a case that there is scope for greater rent-seeking and corruption in some portfolios than in others. That seems to be the implicit argument,in which case,we have accepted ministers are prone to corruption.

India’s citizens may know this to be true,but it is slightly different when the PM and the PMO suggest this. If clean government was the intention,why did the PM back down? If media reports are believed again,he was persuaded about coalition dharma and the need to be flexible.

The PM is intelligent. Surely,he knows the extent to which the Congress needs the DMK in New Delhi or in Chennai. As Marcellus said in Hamlet,“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Something doesn’t ring true. This reminds one of the Surf ad,where your shirt is whiter than mine. The backing-down makes logical sense only if the Congress’s shirt is also dirty and DMK has threatened to reveal this.

It is perfectly possible for the PM not to be aware of the extent to which the Congress shirt is dirty. This episode doesn’t augur well for a clean government.

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