Tradition is a heavy burden to carry, and Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav has decided to go all out to prove it. Uttar Pradesh, where for years governance has hardly been the buzzword, certainly does not lack for ministers. The most recent governments, those of Mr Kalyan Singh, Mr Ramprakash Gupta, Mr Rajnath Singh and Ms Mayavati, sported hordes of ministers too. Mr Kalyan Singh had ninety-three. This is the inevitable result of an unsure bonding among coalition partners. All of them must be coaxed and tempted into supporting the leading party. Going by such reasoning, it is easy to see why Mr Yadav needs an enormous ministry. Ninety-seven ministers, that is, close to a quarter of the number of members in the house, exceeds even the number of ministers at the Centre. But Mr Yadav’s rise to power has not been without strategy, and one of the strategies was the weaning away of members from other parties. It is time to gift the carrot now, to the dissenters from other parties as well as to the smaller parties which have stuck by Mr Yadav. It is no matter that this is a smaller UP, nor that the Sarkaria commission had once recommended that the number of ministers should not exceed one-tenth of the size of the house.
Looking for portfolios for close to a hundred ministers may require the services of an expert with magnifying glasses and a facility for invention. Splitting up ministries in order to create portfolios is not a novel activity for any government nowadays, even the West Bengal government can provide some excellent examples. But that is a minor matter compared to the provision for finances. Ministers need houses, cars and offices and a considerable retinue with hierarchized jobs. Uttar Pradesh is far from rich, and Ms Mayavati’s programmes have left its coffers in a fairly pitiful state. The strain on finances is just the symptom of a much greater malaise. Huge ministries with fragmented portfolios are a sure recipe for weak governance. The issue is not just a question of multiplying red tape but of passing the buck as well. A lack of organization, of coordination, even communication, usually mark governments under coalitions formed purely for pragmatic reasons of seizing power. It has to be seen whether Mr Yadav’s government will be any different.