Shuffling forward to choose a president

KANPUR, (chhotebhai*) – The Congress fared badly in the elections to various State Assemblies, particularly U.P.  The emergence of Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party as a powerful face in U.P. has put paid to the Congress’ hopes of taking him on board and dumping Maverick Mamata’s TMC.  With Karunanidhi’s DMK and Pawar’s NCP also playing truant, the Congress’ options are severely restricted.  How then will it get consensus candidates for the President and Vice President of the country?

It is often said that the President of India is just a titular head, with no real powers.  However, when a Government is weakened, and there are umpteen pulls and pressures, the office of the President assumes importance.  There is near unanimity that the present incumbent is probably on par with Giani Zail Singh, for being grossly inept and unsuited.  Surely we need a President, if only a titular one, to whom not just the country, but also the community of nations can look up to.

I would like to make some proposals for the august offices of the President and Vice President ofIndia.  My choices are determined by the harsh reality that the Congress is heavily dependent on its unpredictable allies, and also the co-operation of the principal Opposition Party – the BJP.  Since my choice affects the present Union Cabinet, I am simultaneously proposing a major cabinet reshuffle.  This may sound like wishful thinking, but former President APJ Abdul Kalam has in fact asked us to dream of the future.  So here goes.

PRESIDENT:  I propose the name of Dr. Manmohan Singh!  Basically he is a brilliant mind, not a political animal.  Politics has been thrust upon him.  However, as the “Peter Principle” states, we attain our own level of incompetence.  In the present circumstance it means that Manmohan, as PM of UPA I, was a brilliant idea, and a successful one.  However, UPA II has been battered by scams, the anti-corruption movement, unpredictable allies and now a bellicose Army Chief.  This required deft political handling and powerful articulation.  Unfortunately, this was not Manmohan’s forte, and the onus for trouble shooting has invariably fallen on the reliable shoulders of Pranab Mukherjee.  If Manmohan continues as PM the Congress is sure to lose the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.  It will pave the way for a motley Third Front; as the BJP today is even worse off than the Congress.  So in the interests of the nation I see the need for drastic steps to be taken consequent to the Presidential elections.  On the positive side, Manmohan’s image in the commity of nations is much higher than it is within the body politic.  Leaders that matter in theUSA,Pakistan,China,Russia, etc hold him in high esteem.  He will also be acceptable to the BJP.  Hence I see Dr Manmohan Singh as an automatic choice for President.  It will also be a just reward for a man of vision and integrity who has served the country well.

VICE PRESIDENT:  The name of Gopalkrishna Gandhi, former Governor of West Bengal, diplomat, and grandson of the Mahatma, has been mooted by Mamata Banerjee.  For once I agree with her. Gopalkrishna is seen as an erudite, humane and just person.  I read his column in the Hindustan Times.  His command of the English language, play on words and idiomatic usage, is rarely found amidst the Bollywood Hinglish that is passed off as English today.  He has the moral uprightness of his respected grandfather.  He also has the requisite skills of administration, learning and diplomacy.  Making him Vice President would also be seen as a victory for the perpetually ebullient Mamata. As VP he will be an excellent Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha. So I can think of no better person than Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

MINISTERS:  Presently the Union Cabinet has 34 Union Ministers, 8 Ministers of State with Independent Charge, and 37 Ministers of State.  I do not pretend to know all of them.  So I will restrict my “reshuffle” to the high profile or sensitive portfolios.  This reshuffle will obviously affect some of the allies, but that will be a small price to pay as compared to losing the 2014 elections. The sequence should be read as Ministry/ Incumbent/ Proposed Name/ Reasoning.

1. Prime Minister: Manmohan Singh – Pranab Mukherjee – Whether dealing with Anna, or the Opposition, Pranabda has been in the forefront.  Till recently he was living in a rented accommodation, and has just begun to build his own house.  This is also indicative of his personal integrity.  He could give a fresh political impetus to the Congress.  Mamatadi would dare not oppose this choice for fear of alienating Paschim Banga.  So Pranab it will be.

2. Finance: Pranab Mukherjee – P. Chidambaram – With Finance being vacated we need another seasoned person.  Chidambaram has held this post before, and he should get back there.  Besides, it will take some of the heat off him from his Tamilian colleagues caught in the 2G scam.

3. Home – P. Chidamabram – A.K. Antony –Antony had acquitted himself well as Defence Minister, until he ran into Gen V.K. Singh.  I shall discuss that separately under my choice of Defence Minister.  For now let it suffice thatAntony is known for his personal integrity.  When Sonia Gandhi was undergoing treatment abroad he was one of those entrusted with party affairs in her absence.  Obviously he enjoys her confidence, essential in a sensitive ministry like Home.  Having already handled Defence, he would know how to handle external terrorists and internal Naxalites.  SoAntony should go Home!

4. Defence – A.K. Antony – Kapil Sibal – I have cogent reasons for this move.  The defence forces are the last vestige of the British Empire inIndia.  The traditions of the Officers’ Mess hold more sway than the mess that the defence services find themselves in.  A short, lungi-wearing southie does not appeal to a north dominated army.  Hence a suave Punjabi like Kapil Sibal fits the bill.  He also has the gift of the gab, to counter the Army’s current penchant for giving interviews at the drop of a regimental hat!

5. External Affairs:  S.M. Krishna – Shashi Tharoor –Krishna has been rather insipid in a role that demands image and flair, just as mush as other attributes. Pakistan must have been aware of this when it appointed a young and inexperienced Hina Khar as its Foreign Minister.  Tharoor was in contention for becoming the Secretary General of the United Nations.  His international standing and diplomatic acumen should be put to maximum use; cricket teams and multiple marriages notwithstanding!

6. Agriculture & Food Processing:  Sharad Pawar – Ajit Singh – Pawar has made a mess of food prices and procurement.  He has also been opposing the Food Security Bill.  He is suspected of being supportive of strong cartels/ lobbies of sugar and onion producers.  He must be moved out of Agriculture. My natural choice for this post would have been Mulayam Singh Yadav.  But he is now too powerful to think of joining a weak UPA.  Hence my next choice is Ajit Singh, whose Lokdal is actually a farmer based party.  Being an engineer by profession, food processing should also not be a problem, though it could also be given to another person.

7. Human Resource Development: Kapil Sibal – Rahul Gandhi – This proposal may come as a surprise.  But it is backed by sound reasoning.  Rahul has the naiveté of this father Rajive. He made all the right moves during the recent U.P. Elections and yet failed miserably.  He has the good intentions but not the administrative experience.  If indeed he seeks to play a bigger role in national politics, he has to emerge from the sycophantic comfort of the Congress Party office, and immerse himself in actual governance.  In the HRD ministry he will involve himself directly with youth aspirations, education and employment.  It will be a perfect foil to the young and dynamic Akhilesh Yadav, whose promise of laptops, tablets and unemployment allowance swayed the youth of U.P.  Rahul has to grow beyond the Dimpled Darling of 2009 and the Angry Young Man of 2012.  He must take the plunge and prove his mettle.

8. Communications & Information Technology:  Kapil Sibal – S. M. Krishna – After the 2G scam Sibal had additional charge. Krishna is an efficient and technically proficient person.  He can increase the stature ofBangalore, our ownSilicon Valley.

9. Railways: Mukul Roy – Sharad Pawar: Railway wagons cannot be loose shunted, nor can it afford loose canons.  Here again efficiency must rule over expediency.  Railways would be a promotion for Pawar, so he should not sulk.  And if Mamata loves Mukul Roy so much let her make him Deputy CM of Paschim Banga!

10. Petroleum & Natural Gas: S. Jaipal Reddy – Kamal Nath – Consumers are highly sensitive about the prices of petroleum products.  We need a stronger personality here.

11. Law, Justice, Minority Affairs: Salman Khurshid – Abhishekh Manu Singhvi – Khurshid made a hash of the U.P. elections, with even his wife coming fifth on his home turf.  Singhvi has done a commendable job as Congress spokesperson and the parliamentary committee on the Lokpal Bill.  He deserves this.

12. Parliamentary Affairs & Water Resources:  Pawan Bansal – Salman Khurshid – He found favour even with Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev.  He seems more amiable.  The government needs such a person to handle this sensitive portfolio.  Minority Affairs may be added back to Khurshid, instead of Water Resources.

13.  Rural Development: Jairam Ramesh – He just moved here.  He is a very sincere person.  Water Resources could be added to his portfolio.

14. Chemicals & Fertilizers: M. Alagiri – Sriprakash Jaiswal – He has brought several crore rupees to the exchequer through Coal India Ltd. He should now move to fertilizers, which again is a sensitive issue with farmers – both for price and availability.

15. Coal: Sriprakash Jaiswal – S. Jaipal Reddy – Having dealt with petroleum and natural gas, he can now handle another natural resource.

16. Steel: Beni Prasad Verma – Dinesh Trivedi – Verma, a recent crossover from the Samajwadi Party, was meant to the Backward face of the Congress in UP.  He had a major say in ticket distribution.  It backfired.  He is now dispensable.  Trivedi showed nerves of steel in handling the Railway Budget.  He should be rewarded for his talent and devotion to duty.

17. Urban Development: Kamal Nath – Pawan Bansal – He should be able to handle this.

18. Civil Aviation: Ajit Singh – Any of the Youth Brigade – Jyothiryrao Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Jitin Prasad.  We need fresh young blood.

19. Science & Technology: Vilasrao Deshmukh – Any one of the Youth Brigade – Deshmukh has been embroiled in too many scams.  He must go to whistling in the woods or wherever; but leave Science & Technology in more youthful hands.

20. Tourism: Subodh Kant Sahay – Selja – We need a fresh face to marketIndia as a tourist destination.  Add Culture here, from Selja’s previous ministry.

21. Urban Poverty Alleviation & Culture: Selja – Youth Brigade – Having taken Culture with her to Tourism, let one of the Youth Brigade try their hand in this challenging ministry.

Having shuffled the ministerial pack of cards, we now need to remove the two jokers.

Joker 1: Montek Singh Ahluwalia.  He has made a farce of the poverty line.  Harsh Mander, former bureaucrat with a humane face, should take over as the Deputy Chairperson of the Planning Commission.

Joker 2: Gen V.K. Singh (since retired) – He’s a “spooky” guy, very conscious of his “honour”, fond of media bytes instead of biting the bullet.  He should be sent as Special Envoy to Cuba, where age is irrelevant for evergreen Field Marshal Fidel Castro in olive green fatigues.  Together they could organize a coup against the Government of theUSA, which is the greatest threat to world peace.

I have dared to dream of the cream ofIndia’s leadership.  We the people should decide who should preside over us. Will this reshuffle change the rules of the game? WillIndiacome out trumps?
* The writer is a Kanpur based social. civic and political activist.

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