Dark shades of governance

Anil Anand
The maverick Dr Subramanian Swamy though a one-man army who believes in solo political runs, is incidentally a BJP member of Rajya Sabha. Two years short of completing his term and having failed to realise his dream of becoming Finance Minister in the Narendra Modi Government, he has started speaking out his mind.
Is it a reflection of his frustration on not landing the Finance Minister’s job or is he really speaking his mind out to caution the Government on its slippages on many fronts that have pushed the nation to a critical stage? Whatever the reasons, one may love him or hate, but cannot ignore him particularly when he is a member of the ruling party.
So, he Tweets: Nation is in a critical stage now in many dimensions, three I have already listed: Coronavirus, Economy and China’s aggression. Now the farmers’ agitation is likely to go confrontational. There is a solution: Make the reforms state wise optional. Let BJP Government show results.
Notwithstanding his unpredictability in making political friends and dumping them at equal ease, the mercurial Dr Swamy’s observations sometimes hold weight particularly when made in the context of his own party and Government. He did it when he was part of Janata Party in 1977 and he is doing it again now.
Dr Swamy’s Tweet on the nation’s “critical stage” contains interesting nuances and has to be understood in the context of broader national scene in conjunction with certain other important developments directly related to the present dispensation at the Centre.
What are the take aways of his Tweet?
Firstly, he has pin-pointed the three serious problems Coronavirus, Economy and China’s aggression that are really testing the nerves of the Modi Government which true to its style has not given an inch to its detractors, leave aside Dr Swamy, to at least recognise the problems and failures, if any, and accordingly deal with these. So, he is impliedly stating that the Centre has failed or admits its failures on way to course correction.
Secondly, his concluding observation thereby suggesting making the reforms state wise optional so as to allow the BJP run governments to show results, is self-explanatory. By doing so he has indirectly put a question mark on the performance of majority of the State Governments run by BJP.
Thirdly, his pointer towards the farmers’ agitation demanding withdrawal of three controversial farm laws and the possibility of its becoming confrontationist, has questioned the Centre’s and ruling BJP’s approach towards this issue. As the farmers announced to observe May 26 as Black Day and held protest congregations to mark the day, there was no indication that Dr Swamy’s warning had immediate effect on the Government’s thinking.
Although he has reflected on issues of governance, his views are loaded with politics. As is well known Dr Swamy has his own inimitable way of expressing his dismay particularly when his personal goals are not accomplished.
His views if juxtaposed with some other developments related to both issues of governance and politics would impel anyone to ponder over as to which direction the current ruling dispensation is headed to. Or that is there any direction at all.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh presiding over a high-level meeting of the state education ministers and high level officials related to conduct or not of Class 12th board examinations on the premise that he is a seasoned veteran leader with long administrative experience has stirred a controversy. It has also raised question as to why Defence Minister and why not the Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ who is highly qualified, experienced and handpicked by the RSS for the job.
Defence Minister heading the meeting of education ministers on the issue of examination schedule raises question about the thinking behind the move. It is another matter that official sources have clarified that the Prime Minister had wanted the Defence Minister to preside over the meeting as he is not only a senior leader but has experience as he was the Education Minister of Uttar Pradesh way back in early 1990s and capability to build consensus on the issue.
Is the move a reflection of disenchantment towards the incumbent Education Minister? And if so, is it a pointer towards long pending cabinet expansion/reshuffle? But something certainly is amiss.
The most credit worthy face in the Union Cabinet, Nitin Gadkari has a businesslike approach both as a Minister and politician. So, in view of the shortage of COVID-19 vaccines plaguing the country his suggestion to give licences for manufacturing the vaccines and life-saving drugs to more domestic companies was logical. Although he showed courage to make these suggestions publicly little did he realise that by doing so he had pushed himself on a sticky wicket.
“If the demand is more and supply is less, then it creates problems. So, instead of one, licence should be given to 10 vaccine companies. Royalty can also be taken from them. No need to do it as philanthropy. Vaccine production should be opened up in 10 more places. There are labs in every state that also have the capacity as well as infrastructure. Lend them the formula and coordinate between the labs and the companies and increase production. First let them supply in the country and then export if there’s surplus,” was his ‘moolmantra’.
The very next day he had to issue a clarification stating that the Government has already started these efforts. “Yesterday while participating at the conference organised by Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, I had made a suggestion to ramp up vaccine production. I was unaware that before my speech Minister for Chemical and Fertilizers Mr Mansukh Mandviya had explained Government’s efforts to ramp up vaccine production. After conference, he also informed me that Government is already facilitating vaccine manufacturing by 12 different plants/companies and rapid ramp up of production is expected in near future as a result of these efforts. I was unaware that his ministry has started these efforts before I had given suggestion yesterday. I am glad and congratulate him and his team for this timely intervention in the right direction. I feel important to put this on record (sic),” he said in a series of tweets.
What does it reflect from the governance point of view? Had one of the senior and performing Ministers in the cabinet been kept out of loop? It would be rather naive to even think that a Minister of his calibre was unaware about the developments that too related to fight against COVID-19 pandemic.
It is well known that the Narendra Modi Government, like any other Government, has set its charter of priorities. And that construction of a new Parliament House building and development of entire central vista (India Gate and surrounding areas) with new housing complexes for Vice President and Prime Minister, and rows of new office buildings in place of the existing ones, is high on its agenda.
There is no harm in upgrading on modernising the infrastructure both in terms of raising profile of the Capital city as well providing work environment with modern amenities. The question being asked is that could these estimated Rs 20,000 crore, to be spent over the next four years as the Government claimed, projects be a priority when the country was hard pressed to fight against COVID-19 pandemic?
Every Government sets targets to be achieved within a particular time frame and so has the current dispensation. The most steadfast target that has been set currently is to ready the new Parliament House complex and part of the Central Vista development projects by 2022 to mark India’s 75th Independence Day celebrations.
This was definitely not a bad idea till the COVID-19 catastrophe had struck the country. But not anymore when the nation is starved of vaccinations and life saving drugs. Oxygen and life saving drugs and the healthcare facilities have cracked.
When many significant decisions regarding these procurements took time, the approval for the Central Vista development project came on a break-neck speed. Well, that should be the way the Governments should take decisions but they should also prioritise which decision to be taken at a particular time.
These are the reflections of confusion in a highly centralised system of governance.