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What’s With The Government?

Omkar Goswami


This summer has become an unseasonably jolly time for our print and television. Normally a period of post-Budget session lassitude that is devoid of any news worth the name, April and May have been bubbling with gleefully gossipy stuff. All gloriously amusing to us, the laity; but sorely embarrassing for Dr. Manmohan Singh and the High Command.

Look at each one of the boo-boos. First, there was Shashi Tharoor. That one was pretty straightforward. After the erudite, handsome man got elected to the Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram by a fat margin and was immediately called upon to serve as a minister of state for external airs, Tharoor decided that he would Twitter-to-touch-the-people. That was a bit silly. Film stars tweet; journalists tweet; page 3 celebrities tweet; kids tweet; ministers don’t. Worse, Tharoor didn’t realise that Stephanian Kooler Talk tweets don’t sit well with politicians. While flying “in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows” is a Tharoor-ian masterpiece that warms the cockles of PLU (People Like Us) hearts, most politicians don’t understand such stuff, and consider it as making fun of the masses. Tharoor may have survived his tweeting, though he had put off several people in power, including his immediate boss, S.M. Krishna. I am told that he was perilously close to getting a tongue lashing from Pranab-babu on behalf of others and the Madam. In any event, he stretched too far, and the IPL did him in. Scribes had fun. TV had fun. Most MPs had fun. And Tharoor must have learnt a lesson or two.

The second boo-boo was far more serious. The proximate cause was the Dantewada killings, with Digvijay Singh’s article in The Economic Times openly questioning his government’s method of dealing with Maoist terror. I must quote a paragraph from the article to make a deeper point.

“I have known... Chidambaram since 1985 when we both were elected to Parliament. He is extremely intelligent, articulate, committed and a sincere politician — but extremely rigid once he makes up his mind. I have been a victim of his intellectual arrogance many times, but we still are good friends. In this case, I have differed with his strategy that does not take into consideration the people living in the affected area who ultimately matter. He is treating it purely as a law and order problem without taking into consideration the issues that affect the tribals. When I raised these issues with him, he said that it was not his responsibility. I strongly believe in the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, and as home minister, it is his responsibility to take a holistic view of the issue and put it up to the Cabinet rather than opt for a narrow sectarian view” [The Economic Times, 14 April 2010].

The deeper point is that many politicians within Congress hate Chidambaram, and have done so for years. Ask them whether they would prefer to have Shivraj Patil back at the job, the answer is a loud “No”. Ask them whether Chidambaram is doing a better job than many others who occupied this office, and in especially difficult times, the answer will be a muted “Yes”. Is he competent? The answer will again be “Yes”. Can you think of a better man? There will be a long silence; some silly names will crop up. They admit to Chidambaram’s calibre; detest his arrogance; abhor his hectoring; and hate his seemingly un-political, morally superior postures.

The worrying feature that even Congressmen who have no mass base and cannot survive without the reassurance of Sonia Gandhi feel that they can snipe at Chidambaram in public. So, Digvijay writes an entirely unnecessary paragraph in an article; and the master of the gab, Mani Shankar Aiyar agrees with him “one thousand per cent”. Why? Because Mani thinks differently? Perhaps. Because Mani hates Chidambaram? Absolutely.

Instead of differences being aired within the Congress, these are now floated through the press. That it makes the government look silly seems to be nobody’s problem. Which brings me to the third boo-boo: Jairam Ramesh’ awesome display of the foot-in-mouth disease in China. It is astounding that an environment minister on tour to China can talk on very sensitive matters relating to China that have nothing to do with his ministry. And say that the our government is “alarmist” and “paranoid” about Chinese businessmen entering the industrial sector in India.

Why are these gaffes happening? Has the government lost control over its ministers? And the High Command over the party? If that is so, be prepared for yet another boo-boo, as Congress MP Navin Jindal starts defending anti-same gotra marriages and other medieval khap practices. What is this government and the Congress coming to? Will someone please wield the whip? And get some Scotch-tape to seal a few lips?


Published: Business World, May 2010


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