Manmohan’s (W)holesome Cabinet
By Santwana Bhattacharya and U Anand Kumar - NEW DELHI
Published: 01st Jul 2012 08:16:40 AM
Our economist prime minister may be a wiz at math, but no one seems to be keeping count of ministers and portfolios in the UPA. The gargantuan Union Cabinet—31 Cabinet ministers, seven Ministers of State with independent charge, 35 Ministers of State— has a headcount of 73, excluding the prime minister, but there remain four ministries without a minister at the helm. When the economy is in a downward spiral, the country has no full time finance minister, textile minister, telecom minister and HRD minister.
Ministries have been bifurcated to form so many smaller units that the government has become a lumbering mammoth of inefficiency—Manmohan will have trouble filling them up all. It is unclear who is in charge of what; hence, decision-making has come to almost a standstill. With the exit of two veteran ministers on a single day—Pranab Mukherjee to contest the presidential elections and Virbhadra Singh to fight a 23-year-old graft charge—vacancies in the government have further increased. Science & Technology Minister Vilasarao Deshmukh has been handed the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises portfolio earlier headed by Virbhadra Singh as additional charge. Many Minister of State slots remain empty. Not to mention the 12 eGoMs and 12 GoMs and the Lok Sabha rendered headless by Mukherjee’s resignation. There are at least seven MoSes who head more than one ministry.
Apart from the clear vacancies, there are as many nine Cabinet Ministers holding dual charges of key ministries, including the Prime Minister. The vacancy caused by the exit of Dayanidhi Maran has not been addressed; Commerce and Industries minister Anand Sharma has been given this additional charge. HRD Minister Kapil Sibal was made IT and Telecom Minister, after A Raja’s departure from the government in the wake of the 2G scam. Sources close to Sibal indicate that the minister is weighed down with the premonition that he may have to give up one of the ministries (he himself is said to be undecided which portfolio he wants to shed) and is banking heavily on his equation with the Prime Minister to emerge with an even more powerful ministry like finance.
Though the Prime Minister may have to lean more on the Maratha strongman’s political acumen (he’s already made him head of Telecom eGoM) now that Mukherjee’s out of the Cabinet, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has dual charge of Ministry of Food Processing Industries. Similarly, Commerce and Industries Minister Anand Sharma, another contender for the finance minister’s slot, is holding the textiles portfolio vacated by DMK’s Dayanidhi Maran, as additional charge.
Law Minister Salman Khurshid is also the Minority Affairs Minister. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, is also Minister for Water Resources, overseeing a number of river-water disputes at the national and international levels. Among the junior ministers, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Minister Kumari Selja holds additional charge of Culture. Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, coveting the finance ministry, is also holding charge of Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.