Madrasi Mantri Ka Menace

Making a king out of Singh was a lot easier. For that king to make mantris out of a multitude of aspiring MPs, ranging from real masters to mavericks, morons and minions turned out to be a monumental task. The swearing-in was postponed repeatedly and happened piecemeal,with the match-making between many ministers and ministries dragging on. The painful process eventually ended two weeks after the poll results and MSingh’s masala ministry with a variety of flavours is finally in place.

We now have a ministerial contingent that is the largest in a decade, around 15% of LS and one minister for every three UPA MPs. Over the years, many committees formed to study governmental expenditure have expressed concern at the burgeoning size of ministries. More ministers automatically mean more offices, more staff, more cars, more bungalows and many more ego-tickling devices, all at the expense of the tax-payer. As coalitions became the norm, ministries were split up to accomodate allies. And when cabinets overflowed and ministries could no longer be split, Ministers of State began to swell just to pamper some ministerial itches. This post is an extra-constitutional creation and there are no clear guidelines on how the work is divided between the minister and his MoS. What’s clear is that demand for cars and bungalows spirals. And for the medium size egos, you have the MoS with independent charge! And yes, an independent car and another bungalow, medium sized. This time around, the Cong did not have the alibi of much pressure from allies, yet its ministry is jumbo, thanks to its own contributions: considerations of caste, State, region, age, gender, pedigree, loyalties, factions etc have all bloated the balloon.Now, what’s important? ‘Serving’ all sections of society or just representing them? But the perversion in ministry making has come to stay.

Choosing cabinet colleagues is the foremost constitutional prerogative of a PM. But coalition partners and extra-constitutional authorities have over the years completely eroded this key power, rendering PMs as pawns and puppets. For instance, MSingh, the meekest of PMs and unelected at that, had just one wish: He wanted Montek Ahluwalia, with whom he has an excellent rapport, as the Finance Minister. Even that solitary wish was shot down by Sonia who preferred Pranab. The PM, once again, appears to have objected to some corrupt candidates proposed by allies. But having winked at Q in due deference to his guardian angel, can he now turn against the likes of ‘Spectrum’ Rajas? So it was that his prerogatives were outsourced to 10 Janpath which now includes the emerging face: The Rahul Brigade has gatecrashed in good strength with a symbolic ‘hi’ to Uncle Manmohan! Indeed, if governance starts with ministry making, it has not begun well.

But those expecting great drama post-poll were not disappointed. The absence of Lalu, Amar, comrades et al was more than made up by the one and only K and his manifold kin. The Aryans of Delhi, and that now includes Italians too, have for some time been witness to a strange reversal of history: The Dravidian invasion of their domains. Till 1979, Union Ministers from TN were only from the Congress. MGR, for the first time, sent two members to the short lived Charan Singh cabinet in 1979. A decade later, ‘Weepy’ Singh’s National Front had a couple of DMK ministers. But from 1996 onwards, the Dravidian presence in the power blocks of Delhi has been more or less continuous. The DMK, AIADMK, PMK, MDMK, together and separately have an impressive list of Union ministerial alumni, though the state of the State remains suspended in 1967. But these parties have proved to be difficult customers both in ministry making and running the governments, so much so, that the Aryans are now scared stiff of the very sight of a Karai veshti!

For good reason. Indicted by the Jain commission, the DMK in 1997 refused to withdraw its two ministers from the UF regime of Gujral which was propped by the Cong. The government fell and elections ensued. In 1998, J withheld the letter of support to Vajpayee for over a week due to grouses in ministry making, delaying the formation of the NDA government.Thirteen months later she pulled down the government itself and TN was credited with imposing another election on the nation. But between the two, DMK has proved a smarter bargainer and therefore, the greater beneficiary. Hectic haggling combined with the now familiar sulk- syndrome ensured plum portfolios for the DMK in 1989, 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2004. Needless to add, these were different regimes, ideologically poles apart, but K had made it a habit to leave such extra baggage in Chennai, whenever he invaded the North.

Delhi’s dread of the Dravidians was on other counts too. The intra-Dravidian rivalry was often played out there, in front of clueless Aryans in whose simplistic view all below the Vindhyas are Madarasis. Add to that the K clan’s family dynamics that beats even us, rationalists, down here; how can one expect a soft Sardar and the sundry other Ji’s to fathom and follow the intricate paths of TN first family’s bloodline? Particularly when the equations keep changing depending on which puram or nagar K is stationed at a given time. More so with pushy grand-nephews springing surprises by the minute with their monstrous media clout. In 2007, when a family feud erupted in fiery violence in Madurai killing three innocents, the cabinet in distant Delhi was rocked. A wasteful reshuffle was imposed just because K’s progeny pulled in different directions. Again, the whole of last week, precious national time and resources were wasted because K could not decide on what order to put his houses in! Many a parent has pushed a ward’s ‘berth’ rights, but none so blatantly as K and for so many!

A greater pain has been the cast of ministerial characters. What has the State that sent the likes of Shanmugam Chettiar, TTK, C Subramani-am, RV (all FMs) to the Union cabinet now to offer? From stalwarts to warts, the deterioration has been in direct proportion to the rising strength of Anna’s legatees. In 1998, AIADMK’s Sedapatti Muthiah and Kadambur Janardhanam, the latter in the finance ministry, had no clue about files in their ministry or the officials in their charge. Their only reference was the chits that used to land on their tables from Chennai! When Dayanidhi was dropped in May ‘07 after the aforesaid feud, one Radhika Selvi was made MoS in Home. She was the wife of an alleged rowdy who was downed in an encounter. Imagine the predicament of the police and IB. And till the family rapproachment, Maran’s media had been virtually accusing Azhagiri for the Madurai murders and Raja of looting thousands of crores in the spectrum scandal. Now the three are colleagues. Of Baalu, less said the better. Yes, the national criminal and corruption track record of ministers and MPs is quite high, but TN certainly betters that average.

Incidentally, I too have a grouse or two with the ministry-making. Kanimozhi has got a raw deal and so Delhi Sangamam will have to wait. And so sad that Azhagiri did not get Shipping. He would have worked wonders like building a port in Madurai!

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Jawahar T R