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BURDENSOME

Another ministerial reshuffle is in the offing. Yet that does not mean a promise to tighten the already unwieldy Union council of ministers, but new inductions. The logic of such reshuffles has progressively less to do with the assumed function of a council of ministers: to ensure that the country is governed efficiently. A lean ministry, fewer government departments, a drastic reduction of red tape would mean greater accountability, the possibility of transparency, and faster work. None of this is of consequence when an umbrella coalition such as the National Democratic Alliance is in power. It is necessary to please all the constituents of the coalition, since loyalty is premised not on ideological or pragmatic similarity but on the number of loafs of office. But there is also the additional need to give the more dynamic members of the majority party the portfolios they would like best, or they would be most effective with. Forming, re-forming and touching up councils of ministers becomes little more than a juggling trick, primarily an exercise in politicking in itself, not a means to better governance.

Inevitably, the rationale for reshuffles depends largely on bad logic. This time the prime minister has said that some of the ministers are “overburdened”, their loads need to be lightened. Since the council is afflicted with a multiplication of similar ministries anyway — there are at least five that could be subsumed under the single head of industry, for example — it is impossible to see where the excess burden can come from. Paradoxically, reports suggest that some ministers holding multiple portfolios are likely to keep them. There has been talk of taking ministries away from “non-performing” ministers. This is fine in principle, but does not solve the main problem. There is much speculation about the induction of Ms Mamata Banerjee: here the reasoning is simple enough. The defeat of the Trinamool Congress in the panchayat elections in West Bengal might lead Ms Banerjee to consider the Congress as a possible ally if the Bharatiya Janata Party does not give her a piece of cake. It will not be surprising if the sharing of the loads of the “overburdened” ministers makes the council of ministers look even more top-heavy than it already does.

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