Old game, new players

The much-awaited Cabinet reshuffle has taken place. After two years in governance, this is at best a “mid-way” correction for the Congress Party.

The positives in this latest round of dismissals, appointments and elevations include the country finally getting a full-time railway minister in Dinesh Trivedi, the talented and articulate Salman Khurshid getting the ministry of law and a well deserved promotion to the Cabinet rank for Jairam Ramesh. Mr Ramesh has been shifted from environment to rural development and in view of the Land Acquisition Bill and other land issues this is a very good move. The elevation of Beni Prasad Verma to Cabinet minister will also prove positive for the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
M. Veerappa Moily has been made to give up the law ministry. Mr Moily has always been an emotional man but his experience, integrity and knowledge will be good for the corporate affairs ministry where a great deal of “cleaning up” is required as corporate rivalries have muddied the waters.
But the reshuffle did not pass without controversy. The issue of ministers Gurudas Kamat and Srikant Jena, unhappy that they did not get Cabinet rank in the reshuffle, should have been handled better. But all this is already history, the honeymoon of the new recruits is over and the focus now is on the critical issue of governance.
The reality of “numbers” is that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition is stable and in case there is any trouble help will come from unexpected quarters. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) has very limited choices as it has a family feud to settle — it is just a matter of time before the two brothers start their battle for control. The Maran brothers face prolonged litigation and possible arrest and the entire family, weighed down by unaccounted assets, now faces retribution for years of excesses. Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa moves carefully and will act in good time. She has nothing to worry about; the DMK as a political force has ceased to exist. The DMK has few choices and should accept textiles and water resources portfolios. There is also the ministry of programme implementation and statistics, in case the DMK is interested.

THE UTTAR PRADESH elections next year will determine if the UPA government in Delhi lasts till 2014. The current situation shows chief minister Mayawati and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) under pressure. Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s campaign on the issue of land acquisition has spread to the entire state and may propel the anti-incumbency factor to hit the BSP hard.
The next few months will be critical — the Congress must intensify its efforts in central and eastern Uttar Pradesh.
The Samajwadi Party (SP) looks slightly healthier with the return of Azam Khan in Rampur, but the Bharatiya Janata Party still lacks credible leadership in the state to make any real gains.
We are heading for a coalition government in Uttar Pradesh and I think both the BSP and the SP will think twice before voting against UPA-2 at the Centre. Coalition politics is complicated but Uttar Pradesh holds the key both now and after the Assembly elections.

WE SEEM to be lurching from one tragedy to the other. In Mumbai, where “sleeper cells” have been activated, three bombs went off, leaving 19 dead and over a hundred injured. The reality is that searching and eliminating these “sleeper cells” needs a rather harsh approach, like the one the US adopted after 9/11. But are we — the government and civil society — ready for these measures? There are no simplistic solutions to this issue.
The Kalka Mail tragedy was possibly the worst train accident we have witnessed in recent times and it was good that Mr Trivedi, the new railways minister, visited the site immediately after taking oath. Along with the usual relief measures that are taken it would be good to know what caused this derailment. Media reports suggest that the train was travelling at a speed of more than 100 km and that the driver applied the emergency brake. Can this be true?
The government and the railway administration need to give our people the assurance that train travel is safe. I heard someone remark that political leaders would know little of travelling by train as most of them fly by special planes or helicopters! This may not entirely be true but it is sad that this sentiment exists.
The train tragedy and the blasts in Mumbai are beyond words — hundreds of families have suffered and will continue to do so. I do hope that something apart from the usual disbursement of compensation is done to take care of the personal loss families have suffered.

IN AFGHANISTAN, President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother was killed by his security guard and while there has been a lot of talk of the impact of the assassination, no one is quite clear about the role Wali Karzai played. Media reports suggest drug connections, extensive assets and close links with the Central Intelligence Agency. The situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate by the day and we can expect the worst both in Afghanistan and Pakistan as the US loses influence. As we saw in the latest round of serial blasts in Mumbai, the trend and tempo of terrorist violence is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Governments across the world have been under increased scrutiny for a while and now it is the turn of the media to come under the scanner. In England, both the Conservative and the Labour party have come out together against Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp. The 163-year-old News of the World has already been shut down and Mr Murdoch’s loyal lieutenant and chief executive of all his British newspapers has resigned. The revelation that about 4,000 telephone lines of VVIPs and VIPs along with their personal records (even children were not spared) were hacked into has horrified many. Even the royal family was not spared. As the emails show, police officers were paid money for information and access to telephone lines. But should this have come as a surprise to those who have been reading these tabloids and their gossip columns? Reform sadly comes after excesses have been committed.
Action is inevitable as criminal activity is involved, and it would be interesting to see the “level’’ this scandal impacts. The fact is that all this information was available three years ago but was suppressed. Accessing phones and personal information and then suppressing the revelation could not have been possible without some form of assistance from those in power.
Happily for us in India the media has made rapid strides and is still very far from the kind of journalism associated with News of the World.

The author is a former Union minister

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