Dr Jay Dubashi
A man called Beni Prasad Verma, who is supposed to be Union Minister for Steel, has been going hammer and tongs at an ex-colleague of his, namely, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who, he (Verma) says, has been taking money from the Congress for his party’s support, which may or may not be true, but cannot entirely be ruled out. Verma also says that Mulayam Singh’s party will be wiped out on the coming general election – a statement that has more than a grain of truth – and will probably be left with just four members in the Parliament, the minimum required to carry the party to the ghats for final rites, a somber prediction that has, for obvious reasons, riled Mulayam Singh, who is actually hoping to form the next government at the Centre!
That is not, however, the point I wish to make. What Beni Prasad Verma thinks of Mulayam Singh Yadav is something between him (Verma) and his fellow MP, and they can settle the matter among themselves as best they can. What I am concerned with is that Verma is supposed to be Union Minister of Steel, a reasonably important portfolio, for which he receives more than adequate remuneration from the taxpayer, that is, you and me, and what does the hon’ble minister give in return?
Verma does not look like a minister of steel, which is a heavy-going portfolio. I have worked in steel plants and have great respect for the men who work there, and who actually make steel. Does Verma really know the difference between steel and pig iron, and, for that matter, between crude steel and finished steel? Does he know how steel is made? Has he ever been inside a steel plant and watched red hot slabs of steel emerge from the furnace, when they are rolled into whatever you want to use them for? Has the minister ever spent even a day in a blazing hot melting shop, where steel is actually made, and watch our steel workers literally sweat it out, as slab after slab rolls out of the furnace? If not, will he tell us what exactly he does for all the money and perks he is paid by the poor taxpayer?
Apart from half-a-dozen ministers in the government, I doubt whether any of them really have any real idea of the job they are supposed to do. The export minister has probably never exported anything in his life and wouldn’t know how to fill an export form. The defence minister, I am sure, does not know the difference between a platoon and a regiment, and cannot distinguish between an AK-7 and a sten gun. The textile minister has probably never worked in a steaming hot textile mill, where the cloth is actually finished, and has no idea between one count and another. And about the atomic energy minister, the less said the better.
Yet we spend thousands of crores of rupees on these men, provide them with vast bungalows and scores of staff, not to speak of luxuriously furnished offices, more for ceremonial purposes than any benefit we derive out of them, and totally out of proportion of the vast quantities of money we spend on them. The ministries and the departments under them are almost certainly run by the bureaucrats and technocrats under them, most of whom have spent a lifetime leaning on the job, and who actually run the government, and certainly run the economy. If India’s economy has been doing better than usual in the last few years, it is not because of the politicians but mainly because of the technocrats who handle the day-to-day running, the economists and the engineers who manage the nuts and bolts of the wheels of the government, and, of course, the bureaucrats who run the whole thing so smoothly with only a few hiccups.
In an increasingly complex global economy, getting more complex with every day that passes, the finance and trade experts keep their eye on the ever changing scenario on a regular basis and make adjustments from time to time, as we do when we are driving a car on a bumpy road. They keep in touch with their counterparts in other countries and with international agencies, and bring their expert eye to bear on the rapidly changing scenario. This is something which only experts can do, not the likes of Beni Prasad Verma, or Mulayam Singh Yadav, who do not know inflation from double-dip depression, and who have never heard of commodity futures and would not know how to react to a sudden drop in Dow-Jones index or a sudden rise in the dollar.
So, what do the ministers, that is, the politicians do? What is their contribution to the government – and the nation – for all the money that we spend on them? It has been calculated that each Union Minister costs us a minimum of Rs 100 crore (one hundred crore) per year, and a Minister of State a little less, if you take into account the huge establishments they run, their travels and their personal staff, their entertainment expenses, and, of course, the bribes they habitually receive. In Maharashtra, the entertainment bills of the chief minister and his deputy, a nephew of Sharad Pawar, came to Rs 100 crore last year, which means they have been splurging to the tune of Rs 2 crore a week – remember, per week – on their dinners and other banquets at a time when the State is reeling under drought after drought and hundreds of thousands of people have been abandoning their homes and hearths, not to speak of their cattle, for refuge elsewhere. And what were these two johnnies doing? They were giving huge banquets costing a minimum of Rs 30 lakh a day – a day – all at the cost of the poor taxpayer.
The global scenario is getting more and more complex at a time when there is tremendous rush for natural resources which are getting more and more expensive. Leaders of different countries are criss-crossing the world in search of oil and minerals and other resources for which there is keen competition on a worldwide basis. At a time like this, you require not only careful long-term planning but high-quality intellectual and other inputs so that you are not left in lurch.
Can the Beni Prasad Vermas of this world rise to the challenges of the modern world? Is his ministry planning for the future? And what is his personal contribution to the ministry? He, and politicians like him, seem to be spending most of the time and taxpayer’s money, on cheap politicking, the kind you find municipal corporation indulging in, and deriving great satisfaction out of it. If this is what politicians do why have them, at such a great cost to you and me? It is a kind of question many Indians are asking, for it is they who bear the cost and foot the bill for no fault of theirs!