Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Govt rejig, terror attack


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By Poonam I Kaushish

The more things change, the more they remain the same. This dear bhai-bandhu is the ghisa-pita sum total of two events last week. The much-hyped but flat Cabinet reshuffle which neither reinvented nor revitalised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ‘paralysed’ Government. Followed by the cataclysmic terror strikes in Mumbai that yet again left egg on our security apparatus. Sadly, both underscored the system continues to be one ‘DK Bose’, to use Delhi Belly’s crude but crassly fashionable words.The ministerial reshuffle, we were told, was based on performance, clean record and public image to ensure that the Council of Ministers performs cohesively prior to the 2014 elections. And to finally put an end to the relentless but well-deserved ten months Government bashing to a point of ridicule. Alas, not only does Manmohan Singh’s re-jig lack imagination and ambition but it failed to rope in fresh talent and dynamic leaders. Instead of totally overhauling his Ministerial brood he chose status-quo-ante. Resulting in a botched exercise, no weeding of inefficient Ministers and reallocation of portfolios to match available talent. Worse, the UPA continues with its debilitating image deficit, good governance a far cry. At best, Sonia’s double-edged sword: Support the Prime Minister but refuse to empower him to crack the whip and show he is boss. At worst, a re-distribution of power within the Congress to handle the power struggles within the Party. See how the Minister of State for Railways refused to abide by the Prime Minister’s “advise” to visit the train crash sites, preferring instead to follow his leader Mamata Banerjee. What to say, of five-term Maharashtra MP who cocked a snook for being “demoted” to a minor ministerial portfolio, the Union Law Minister accused “vested interests,” for his transfer to Corporate affairs and a former Maharashtra Chief Minister shrugged it of as “Delhi’s kho-kho politics”. Sadly, the Prime Minister floundered in challenging existing power equations. Arguably, what is so sacrosanct about the four senior-most Ministers? Why have they not been shuffled? It is no secret that India needs a more dynamic Foreign Minister to chart India’s foreign policy in the ever-changing world kaleidoscope. Also, a new Home Minister he not only talks tough but translates them into action.Most scandalous is the fact, that out-going Corporate Affairs Minister Murli Deora made his son’s entry into the Council of Ministers a pre-condition to his exit. One had gotten used to hereditary membership to legislatures but inherited Minister-ship makes nonsense of the criteria of merit. Ditto the case of Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasad and Agatha Sangma. Our babalog see electoral politics as an extension of their family fiefdom. Blessed with an exaggerated sense of entitlement. As Rahul Gandhi made plain, “politics is all about a surname, yaar! As also age. Think. While 14 Cabinet Ministers, including Manmohan Singh are in their 70s, just one, Kumari Selja is in her late forties. The average age of “young” Ministers of State is a ‘senior’ 55-plus. Thus, 60 is the average age of UPA II Council of Ministers. Compare this to UK’s 45-year-old Prime Minister David Cameron and a 50-year-old US President Barack Obama Significantly, the UPA failed to appreciate that it cannot improve its own image, or that of the individual constituents of the alliance, including the Congress, if it allows the Prime Minister’s authority and image to weaken. What was needed was a Kamaraj Plan. Recall, in the 60’s old Congress war horse asked all Ministers to tender their resignation and allow the Prime Minister to choose his team. But according to sources, the Congress High Command was not inclined to oblige. True, notwithstanding the lingering bad stench of a governance paralysis, the UPA remains stable and enjoys adequate support in the Lok Sabha. Nothing more nothing less.Thanks to an adrift Opposition. The BJP is caught in its moribund politics and unable to create a new identity for itself even when the Government is offering so many opportunities and issues, and the so-called Third Front is in disarray.Barely had the Prime Minister finished patting himself on his back that peace was shattered by three terror strikes in Mumbai on 13 Black Wednesday. Which once again highlighted that the Government continues to wallow in the false belief that wars are games born in the minds of men — won peacefully by waving the white flag. Coming after a two year eight month lull post 26/11, the political reactions were predictable. VVIP after VVIP fell over one another in condemning the perpetrators ‘cowardly’ (sic) act. Followed by a series of high-profile appear-and-vanish visits to the city to profess their angst and, hopefully, extract, political mileage. India will not be cowed down”, the perpetrators will be brought to book”, was the typical common refrain. Then followed the usual more of the same, Government forces were rushed replete with more promises to act tough et al. Yawn so predictable. Never mind, its India’s 18th attack since 2000 and the terrorist still roam scot free.Then came the bloomers. Instead of calming the frayed aam aadmi’s nerves and allying fears, asserted Union Home Minister, “All Indian cities are vulnerable”. Added Maharashtra Chief Minister, “Mumbai’s not geared to fight terror”. Chipped in Rahul Gandhi, “It is difficult to stop every terrorist attack”. Why? Simply because over 60 per cent of the security forces are too busy protecting our VVIPs. Besides, no neta has the stomach to take hard decisions and act. Scandalously, the attack exposed how ill-prepared the Government is in ensuring timely action. Not only was there a massive intelligence failure but till date no correctives have been put in place. For instance, no CCTV cameras have been installed in crowded bye-lanes of various markets or beat constables deployed in terror-prone areas. It also raises serious questions about the effectiveness of the intelligence apparatus and the level of coordination between the Centre and the State agencies From Kargil to Mumbai the story, comments and diagnoses have been heard before. Questionably, why has no attack taken place in the US since 2001 or the UK after 2005? Bluntly, the terrorist know they would have to pay with double measure. Remember post 9/11 Washington destroyed Afghanistan and recently “smoked out” Osama bin Laden. But India will continue to be under assault as our security infrastructure is abysmal and we are renowned to be a “soft” State. Examples abound. Post 26/11 the much-promised National Counter Terrorism Centre is nowhere in sight. The National Intelligence Grid is behind schedule. The National Security Guards hubs in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad for quicker response to terror strikes have yet to materialize. — INFA


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