NEWSPAPERS have a compulsion to make instant comment on passing events of importance in the belief, no doubt sound, that the public expects to know what the media feels on a given issue rightaway. It is breaking views, like breaking news. But a month after, would the media still feel the views it expressed earlier bears scrutiny?
Take the comments made by the leading English dailies on the Cabinet reshuffle on October 28. The Times of India (October 29) said the reshuffle “bears all the UPA hallmarks of caution and incrementalism” and reflects “concern of old-fashioned identity politics rather than any resolve to upgrade governance”. “For a crucial job” said the paper, “merit rather than ethnic affiliation ought to have been the main criterion.”
The paper said that the “most striking” aspect of the reshuffle was the absence of Rahul Gandhi, which, said the paper “in itself bespeaks the UPA’s lack of ambition, as public discontent rages and the government squares up to face stormy weather ahead.”
The Hindu (October 29) said the reshuffle “has turned out to be quietly dramatic”. “With time running out for the Congress, a bolder, chancier reshuffle focussed on bridging the governance deficit that is so apparent in dozens of Ministries would have been a more prudent electoral strategy, than its reliance on a political model centred around regional appeasement, traditional loyalties and patronage networks.” The Indian Express (October 29) called the reshuffle a damp squib. “It neither reflects UPA’s concern for good governance nor is it a passport to economic reforms” it went on. It noted that the allocation of the Ministry of Human Resources Development to Pallam Raju and of Law to Ashwin Kumar “are rewards for loyalty rather than for merit”. It also noted that many like Makan, Manish Tewari et al herald “the ascendancy of the youth brigade led by Rahul”.
Deccan Herald (October 29) felt that what “unfolded was a repeat of familiar Congress stories about Ministry reshuffles”. It said that “the entire exercise turned out to be about giving regional caste and community representation to regain/ reinforce vote banks.” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh it seemed, said the paper “had little space to manoeuvre and use the reshuffle to regain his government’s credibility”. Also, said the paper, the reshuffle brought in “representatives from traditionally marginalised sections of society and gave them a share of power” though it was “by and large very cosmetic”.
DNA (October 29) said “it was a huge, comprehensive Cabinet reshuffle which undoubtedly reduced the age of Ministerial Council but did not carry the real authority and stamp of Rahul Gandhi.” The reshuffle, it said “was a typical Congress affair, a please-all exercise which took into account everything from caste and community equations to regional consideration.” further it said, it “carried the impression about the Congress being very little worried about the multiple scams.”
The Asian Age (October 29) pointed out that all new ministers or those affected by the reshuffling of the deck, except Tariq Anwar (NCP) are from the Congress and that “it is futile to judge the new ministers or the portfolios that have been allotted, only in terms of youth and experience”. The DMK, said the paper, “did the Congress a favour by not seeking to fill vacancies in the original quota in the Union Council of Ministers”, giving Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, “a free hand in deciding the new look of the Council of Ministers”.
The Telegraph (October 29) thought that if some young and capable ministers have been given more and independent responsibilities, it has not been at the expense of dispensing completely with the old. SM Krishna, it said, was made to depart “not because of his age, but because of his incompetence”. The most important change, according to the paper, is the induction of Salman Khurshid, known for his “urbanity and sophistication” to the Foreign Ministry, a step which it thought is a welcome one.
The Hindustan Times (October 29) took the view that those who have been chosen as Ministers “have the merit and stamina to get past the finishing line.” It gave credit to Rahul Gandhi for giving importance to younger Ministers of State. The singular message that the PM and UPA chairperson has put out, said the paper, “is that the short time before the elections will be one during which the government will implement its agenda now that it has the team it really wants in place”. The paper granted that there will be Cassandras who will say “that this is no more than a game of musical chairs, but that, it argued, “would be to do a disservice to the considerable thought that seems to have gone into this reshuffle”.
One paper quietly noted that what pays in Congress is “lineage” to “join the elite club”. It pointed out that it was Salman Khurshid’s lineage that helped him emerge as the External Affairs Minister, considering that his father, Khurshed Alam Khan, son-in-law of former President Zakir Hussain, was also a Minister of State for External Affairs. The paper also pointed out at least eight others who figure in the reshuffle exercise with similar linage of power, K Jayasurya Prakash Reddy a third term MP from Kurnool is former Andhra Chief Minister, K Vijay Bhaskar’s son. Deepa Dasmunshi is the wife of former Union Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunshi who has been ailing for the last few years. Ajay Maken’s elder brother Lalit was married to the daughter of former President Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma. Sachin Pilot’s father, Rajesh and Jyotiraditya Scindia’s father Madhavrao were once both cabinet ministers. Likewise, Bharatsinh Solanki’s father Madhavsinh had been a Union Minister and a former chief minister of Gujarat. Jitin Prasada who got the Defence and HRD portfolios is the son of Jitendra Prasada, the former Political Secretary to Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and RPN Singh, who has moved to the Home Ministry is the son of former Union Minister CPN Singh. So it pays to have a respectful lineage.
One does not need to have any talent to be a Congress minister. The presumption is that what counts is lineage. Dynasticism is obviously paying. So must Rahul Gandhi have thought as he reflected on his own place in the Congress scheme of things, when recommending candidates to the Prime Minister. How can one blame the poor man? Where would he have been if he was not Sonia Gandhi’s son?