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     CURRENT ISSUE JANUARY 01, 2007
 
   NATION: THE GOVERNMENT
 

Ministers At War

Bitter battles being fought between senior ministers over turf and political pelf are delaying decisions on policy and affecting growth

 
It could be an apocryphal story. At the height of the dengue scare, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for a review of public health facilities and the cause of rising cases. Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss held forth that he couldn't be held responsible for breeding of mosquitoes at building construction sites. His suggestion: if this was to be prevented then builders should seek clearance on cleanliness from the Health Ministry. Manmohan swiftly shot down the idea as this would have added one more layer of clearance. He also snuffed out chances of another bitter turf battle between him and a gaggle of ministries that oversee project clearances.

Manmohan is not always this lucky. Camouflaged under a wave of good news from 8-plus per cent GDP growth rate to overseas acquisitions by corporates to the spiralling Sensex, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime is one big arena of pitched battles between senior ministers. As Parliament adjourned after the winter session, the battles resumed. The policy landscape is littered with delayed decisions and stalled initiatives.

Quota Raja
ARJUN SINGH
HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT

VS

MANMOHAN SINGH
PRIME MINISTER
Third Umpire
The PMO appointed the Moily Oversight Committee to look into quota implementation. Moily suggested staggered implementation. Arjun wants it in one shot.

MANMOHAN
Wanted HRD minister to separate private and Central universities in the draft bill. Arjun had mentioned both.

ARJUN
He has pushed through the 93rd Amendment Act even though it goes against the merit-first belief of the PM.

A.R. ANTULAY
MINORITY AFFAIRS
Minority Player
Antulay is minister for minority affairs but Arjun Singh is announcing all the sops such as 50 per cent quota for Muslims in Aligarh Muslim University.

ANTULAY
Minority education should be shifted to him. PMO said yes but three days later backed out as Arjun refused to oblige.

ARJUN
This is his constituency. Has announced a Muslim headcount in all schools across India after the Sachar report.

Fiscal Fighter
P. CHIDAMBARAM
FINANCE

VS

MURLI DEORA
PETROLEUM
Petro Price Priest
Petroleum is main source of revenue for both Centre and states. The tax structure magnifies even minor hikes in global crude prices into higher fuel prices.

DEORA
If crude prices rise we will have to hike prices. Centre must cut excise duty to help to bring down rising fuel prices.

CHIDAMBARAM
How can we review the matter? We are already following the formula laid out by the Rangarajan Committee.

DAYANIDHI MARAN
TELECOM
IT Evangelist
Nine months back when Intel went to Vietnam, India decided to woo the chip industry. Investors have been waiting since for a policy and sops.

MARAN
India should offer the best possible deal to chip-makers. Wants tax sop of 350% on R&D spend; equity participation.

CHIDAMBARAM
Concessions have to be realistic. Sops should be limited to 25% of project cost. IT Ministry has to move a Cabinet note.

SHARAD PAWAR
AGRICULTURE
Sugar Daddy
Pawar has had several battles with the Ministry of Finance ranging from interest charged to farmers to imports. The latest is on the ban on sugar exports.

PAWAR
Government policies-imports or exports should enable farmers to recover costs. Farmers should not suffer.

CHIDAMBARAM
Governments need to control inflationary pressures to ensure the interests of not just farmers but consumers too.

Merit Guru
KAPIL SIBAL
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

VS

ARJUN SINGH
HRD
OBC Messiah
Sibal has criticised Arjun Singh's quota policy arguing for meritocracy. He has also asked for phased implementation while Arjun wants it in 'one go'.

ARJUN
Quotas are necessary to enable the backward classes compete in an increasingly globalising world.

SIBAL
No policy should dilute excellence in our educational institutions or impact India's ability to compete globally.

H.R. BHARDWAJ
LAW
Legal Eagle
The Supreme Court has ordered MCD to seal shops and offices in residential areas and on unauthorised land. Trader community is up in arms against government.

BHARDWAJ
The rule of law has to be respected. The Supreme Court is the only forum of redress. There is no other forum.

SIBAL
The matter should be handed over to a body for rehabilitation and planning. Traders could be fined instead.

Doctor No
A. Ramadoss
health

VS

P.R. DASMUNSHI I&B
Content Director
Ramadoss announced a ban on smoking on screen by film stars. The ban, to be effective from January 2006, is yet to be implemented by I&B.

DASMUNSHI
One cannot dictate content. How can you show Churchill without a cigar or Devdas without liquor?

RAMADOSS
Film stars set an unhealthy example before youth by smoking on screen. Finds his suggestion up in smoke.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram argues "differing voices are part of any government. What one should be worried about is the deadening uniformity of opinion." Sure, a coalition government will have its share of political pulls and pressures. But the battle is between Congressmen and not just between allies. Even the introduction and creation of over 77 Groups of Ministers (GoMs) has not enabled resolution of the battles. Neither during the NDA regime nor even at the state-level coalitions have differences resulted in a public spectacle of statements and counter statements. Collective decision-making and responsibility now appears to be a mere notion.

Home Guard
SHIVRAJ PATIL
HOME

VS

KAMAL NATH
COMMERCE
Zonal Manager
The Home Ministry has concerns about SEZs near defence establishments or border areas. It has also shot down employment of foreigners at SEZs.

NATH
Issue guidelines for investors instead of using veto power over investments based simply on the location of an SEZ.

PATIL
Will vet and clear proposals both on sectoral and locational basis to ensure that national security is not compromised.

DAYANIDHI MARAN
TELECOM
The Connector
IB and NSC have blocked 74 per cent FDI in telecom since November 2005. They want Indian CEOs/CTOs as heads of telcos and ban on remote access monitoring.

MARAN
Telecom is borderless. Foreign outfits like Tyco are managed from India. Besides, it is allowed on 49 per cent equity.

PATIL
There is danger of national security being compromised through remote access and transfer of user information.

AMBIKA SONI
TOURISM
Visa Queen
A GoM cleared visa-on-arrival proposal in February 2005. Now Soni's pet project is blocked by objections from the Home Ministry on security concerns.

SONI
We should at least reciprocate those countries that offer us this facility and allow visa on arrival for visitors from there.

PATIL
Visa on arrival cannot be allowed as it may compromise national interests. We must first put systems in place.

Mr Empowerment
M.S. AIYAR
PANCHAYATI RAJ

VS

R. PRASAD
RURAL DEVELOPMENT
Grassroots King
This is a serial turf war. After two GoMs, it is now over control of District Rural Development Agencies and District Planning Committees.

PRASAD
Panchayati Raj is not utilising DRDA funds and district planning does not come under Panchayati Raj.

AIYAR
His ministry is involved in institution-building while Prasad should concentrate on implementation.

Sop Star
KAMAL NATH
COMMERCE
The Aviator

VS

P. CHIDAMBARAM
FINANCE
Tax Protector
The SEZ sops battle is easily the biggest in the UPA regime. Chidambaram is opposed to sops. Nath says SEZs will create jobs and revenue. The saga is on.

CHIDAMBARAM
Tax exemptions and other sops will lead to migration of units and a loss of revenue of over Rs 1,75,000 crore.

NATH
Not true. Employment generated will make up for loss of revenue and an additional revenue of Rs 44,000 crore.

ARJUN SINGH
HRD
Status Quoist
Commerce Ministry wants foreign universities to be allowed to set up campuses in India. Only 3% of India's GNP is spent on education. Needs more.

ARJUN
They can come through the University Grants Commission as "deemed universities" subject to UGC norms.

NATH
The HRD Ministry needs to unshackle its anarchic control, otherwise quality institutes will not come in.

PRAFUL PATEL
CIVIL AVIATION

VS

 

P. MUKHERJEE
EXTERNAL AFFAIRS
Air Marshall
Patel has opposed a move suggested by the MEA and the Planning Commission for an open skies pact between India and the members of ASEAN.

MUKHERJEE
If there can be an open skies pact with United States then why not with ASEAN countries?

PATEL
Indian players need time to prepare to face foreign competition.

The battle over tax sops to SEZs has been going on for nearly a year. The move to ramp up FDI in telecom is caught in a tussle between the ministries of home and it & telecom on the grounds of national security. Similarly, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel is locked in a tussle with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and the Planning Commission over an open-skies policy for airlines from ASEAN nations.

Earlier this year during the Budget, Chidambaram had announced that a special package would be devised to attract chip-makers to India. For seven months now, Chidambaram and Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran have battled over the magnitude of sops to be given resulting in investments being delayed. Ditto with the steel sector where investments of over $25 billion (Rs 111,900 crore), including that of the Korean giant Posco, hinge on a critical policy decision on export of iron. While the prime minister and the minister for mines are open to discussions, Steel and Fertiliser Minister Ram Vilas Paswan is dead opposed to export of iron ore. It is another matter that India's largest export to China is that of iron ore.

POWER MAN
SHARAD PAWAR
AGRICULTURE

VS

R. PRASAD
RURAL DEVELOPMENT
Rain Man
The creation of a National Rainfed Area Authority in the Budget resulted in a battle on who will chair the NRAA. After a GoM failed, the PM settled the issue.

PRASAD
Since we manage watershed management, it should be our baby.

PAWAR
NRAA was for improving farmers' lot so it was logical he ran it.

R.V. PASWAN
FERTILISERS
Captain Berth
Wheat and fertilisers landed at the ports. Pawar wanted wheat to be lifted first as it was needed for PDS but Paswan wanted fertilisers lifted first.

PASWAN
Wheat can wait but farmers need fertilisers and it must be lifted first.

PAWAR
Wheat needed urgently to bridge the gap in procurement for PDS.

Gulf Warrior
E. AHAMED
EXTERNAL AFFAIRS

VS

A.R. ANTULAY
MINORITY AFFAIRS
Haj Yatri
Ahamed guards the Gulf turf zealously. Prevented Antulay from poaching the Haj portfolio. Haj pilgrimages are great sops to woo Muslims.

ANTULAY
Haj should be part of his portfolio as it caters to the minorities.

AHAMED
Haj needs coordination with Saudi Arabia which only the MEA can do.

VAYALAR RAVI
NRI AFFAIRS
The Missionary
NRI Affairs was carved out of MEA. Ravi often communicates with Indian missions directly. He also handles the coveted Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.

RAVI
It was he who had suggested setting up of NRI centres abroad.

AHAMED
Has blocked proposal for diplomatic immunity to officials at NRI centres.

It is not just differences on policy but tussle for control of turf or personal ambition that is driving the schism between ministries. In what tantamounts to challenging the prime minister's authority, HRD Minister Arjun Singh is adamant that higher quota for OBCs in educational institutions be implemented in a single phase whereas both the PMO and Oversight Committee chief Veerappa Moily want a phased roll-out. Result: decision is held up since January. Elsewhere, Paswan wants a job quota in private sector while Manmohan is for voluntary affirmative action.

What has added to the causes of strife is that the UPA has chosen to carve out chunks of ministries to accommodate Congressmen. Consider the HRD Ministry, which was created as a one-stop policy point by Rajiv Gandhi for pushing social initiatives in 1984. While the Women and Child Development Department has been hived off for Renuka Chowdhury, a Ministry for Minority Affairs has been created for veteran Congressman A.R. Antulay to rehabilitate him in the party hierarchy and the Congress among Muslim voters. The bifurcation of Panchayati Raj from Rural Development Ministry has pitted Raghuvansh Prasad Singh of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) against Panchayati Raj Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar over who will run what.

A new angularity presented itself when Manmohan empowered the Plan panel in his effort to monitor projects to achieve "inclusive growth". While the jury is out on whether monitoring of Rs 63,000 crore spent on poverty alleviation has triggered any efficiency, fact is the commission has initiated steps in promoting ways to implement projects in the PPP (public-private partnership) domain. From roads to civil aviation, politically-empowered ministers have balked at what they term as "interference". Some, like the Ministry of Highways even blame the commission for delays in contracts. Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia though sees it differently. "The Planning Commission is meant to provide critical assessment whether policy is playing out right. The debate is a welcome sign."

Of course, debate is the bulwark of democracy but it must be focused on issues, not personal foibles or political pelf. At the halfway mark, the Government is staring at a contrasting images of high growth and penury in the farm sector. Obviously too much time is being wasted in battling within when the regime should battle the elements that keep the polity down. The Government has been lucky with economic growth and political opposition. One is buoyant and the other is near comatose. But nothing as Ricardo said lasts forever and before its luck runs out on the Government, it needs to find inner peace. As Manmohan articulated in a recent speech, "We need a basic political consensus on some of the difficult things that governments must do to create an environment conducive to sustainable development." But that cannot happen without a modicum of discipline. Manmohan himself, though concerned about the pitched battles, is averse to disturbing the delicate balance of the coalition. Congressmen and the allies are obviously emboldened by the fact that real political power resides outside Raisina Hill.

Beyond the politics of pelf and ambitions there is a fundamental problem. The NDA had a dispute redressal mechanism headed by Convener George Fernandes which met regularly to iron out issues. The UPA has no such mechanism. Indeed, the only time the UPA members have met is to celebrate the first and second anniversaries of the regime. Even the UPA -Left meetings are really between the Congress and the Left. Perhaps, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi should take the lead and formalise a coordination mechanism. She should also read the riot act both to the allies and her own party members. If the coalition is to deliver.

-with Priya Sahgal, Neeraj Mishra, Puja Mehra and Saurabh Shukla

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UPA Government: Hand Of Control
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Untitled Document
CURRENT ISSUE
JANUARY 1, 2007
 IN THIS ISSUE
COVER STORY

BACHCHAN VS KHAN

OTHER STORIES
 

Ministers At War

Ground Zero

In Democracy We Trust

One Down, Six To Go

The Desert Sun

No Room For Hospitality

Disease of Society

Bytes, Camera, Action

A Position On Sex

Terror and Memory

A Legacy Divided

Romancing The Ruins

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