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NEW THINKING

Politics is a game of chance; surprises can never be ruled out. Though few would give a thought to it, there must be a certain probability that a government led by the Congress will return. It is not even impossible that it will be headed by the outgoing prime minister. He has declared his intention to step down; a comfortable Lutyens bungalow in the heart of Delhi is being refurbished for him. But he has never been able to resist the call of duty. If the Indian National Congress wins by a stroke of good fortune and if, as has been his wont till date, Rahul Gandhi declines to take the helm, there would be no option for Manmohan Singh to return to another spell at the peak. If he does, it can be safely assumed that there will be little change in policy direction.

Populism will continue to be the theme. Billions will continue to be spent on the employment scheme and foodgrain subsidies. New, leaky welfare schemes will be added to the sixty-odd ones listed today. They will give the prime minister ample scope for appointing major, minor and insignificant ministers. If the Congress gets seats in two digits, it should be possible to fit all its members of parliament into a bursting cabinet. But it is more likely that neither Mr Singh nor the reluctant heir will make it, and that another party and another prime minister will take charge. It is unlikely that she will want to continue in the way of her predecessor. She may also be authoritative enough not to have to accommodate dozens of aspirants in the cabinet, and may constitute a small cabinet designed to deliver results. In that case, she could do worse than pick up the report of the Rakesh Mohan Committee. That is a bit unspecific, since Rakesh Mohan has chaired umpteen committees. What is meant in the present context is the National Transport Development Policy Committee. It submitted its report to the outgoing prime minister on March 1 ó late enough to ensure that he would not implement it. It will be suspected that Mr Mohan delayed submission enough to ensure that the last government did not have to act on it, for its implementation record was poor.

In any case, it gives the next prime minister a chance to hit the ground running; instead of appointing and calling meetings of another Planning Commission, National Development Council, prime ministerís economic advisory council and other weighty deliberative bodies, she can start creating an integrated transport and logistic network for the entire country. There could not be a better plan for stimulating growth in a slowing economy; and it would stitch together an economy that has been regionalizing under the leadership of strong state chief ministers. Nor could there be a better transport minister than Mr Mohan, who is wasting his time in luxury in Washington.