The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The new ministry in Meghalaya makes a mockery of democracy. All but four of the 42 legislators of the Congress-led alliance have been made ministers in a state which has a 60-member assembly. The chief minister, Mr D.D. Lapang, found no better justification for this oversized cabinet than the need for political stability. In other words, only the lure of office would keep legislators from toppling governments. The insinuation reflects poorly not only on the ministers but also on the chief minister himself and the Congress high command. Not very long ago, the Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi, had asked chief ministers of states ruled by the party to trim their governments and cut down on expenditure. But Meghalaya is not the first state nor is the Congress the only party that has offered bloated ministries as bribes to buy political loyalty. The ruling Bahujan Samaj Party-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance in Uttar Pradesh or the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress government in Bihar is plagued by the same malaise. Even the Left Front in West Bengal took recourse to large ministries to contain dissent among the partners. The compulsions of coalition politics have only worsened a problem that has long been the bane of Indian politics.

But large ministries are no guarantee for political stability, especially in a state like Meghalaya which has had six ministries in the past five years. The question of political morality apart, oversized ministries are a drain on the economic resources of big and small states alike. Such extravaganzas betray a cynical indifference to the cause of public welfare. Much of the money that could have been spent on providing basic amenities to the people will go into the upkeep of these ministries. The problem is that the political parties do not seem to be bothered by either this political abuse or its economic consequences. That is why neither the Centre nor any state government has taken any step to implement the Sarkaria commission’s recommendation that the size of a ministry should not exceed 10 per cent of the strength of the legislature. The Centre must make the first move to stem the rot.

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