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MUNDAíS MONTH

Coalition politics may be sticky business; but it is also a test for a leaderís survival skills. Jharkhandís new chief minister, Mr Arjun Munda, has not done too badly in learning the skills in the first month of his tenure. It certainly is early days for him, but he has been careful not to repeat the mistakes that forced his predecessor, Mr Babulal Marandi, to resign in the face of a revolt from within his government. He has not done some of the things that Mr Marandi did and thereby offended his cabinet and coalition colleagues. And he has already done some other things which Mr Marandi angered many by not doing. By deciding to withdraw police cases relating to the statehood demand, he has fulfilled a promise that his predecessor failed to keep. Unlike Mr Marandi, who unnecessarily dragged his feet on it, he has given a firm commitment to hold the long-delayed panchayat elections by the end of June. But most important, he has sought to restore a semblance of unity to the government. The rebellion against Mr Marandi was orchestrated by ministers who complained about their powers being clipped by him. Mr Marandi was accused of depending more on bureaucrats than his cabinet colleagues to run the administration. Mr Munda seems keen to restore mutual trust between himself and his ministers by allowing them to run their departments unfettered.

But holding the coalition together is not the same thing as running the government properly. Mr Munda needs to guard against going overboard in his anxiety to please colleagues and allies. After all, he is the one who heads the government and has the ultimate responsibility for his ministersí performance or the lack of it. No government can function if ministers undermine the chief ministerís authority in the name of the cabinetís collective responsibility or if the latter is busy all the time buying peace with his cabinet. It looked a cynical attempt to buy their loyalty when Mr Munda elevated all ministers of state belonging to parties other than the Bharatiya Janata Party to the cabinet rank. Let alone ensuring a better administration, it may not even be a good strategy to keep the government afloat. He may have pleased the ministers by giving them back the authority to decide on departmental transfers and postings. But he must ensure that this does not degenerate into systemic corruption. The interest of the administration, rather than pressures from ministers, should prevail when he reshuffles the bureaucracy next month. All his strategies to win friends will come to naught if Mr Munda loses control of the government.

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