Politics in India often borders on the farcical. Jharkhand’s chief minister, Mr Arjun Munda, would, however, have the people believe that there was nothing wrong or funny about the trip of his entire cabinet to New Delhi. Ostensibly, he and his ministerial colleagues discussed serious business with Union ministers over dinner at one of the most expensive hotels in the capital. Mr Munda’s argument that this was a good strategy to get speedy approvals for pending Central projects in the state is, to say the least, spurious. Nobody denies that bureaucratic delays bedevil development projects in the country. The need for lobbying in the capital’s corridors of power is also a fact of Indian political life. The members of parliament elected from a state are supposed to do precisely that. There are fora such as the national development council and the inter-state council on which Centre-state exchanges take place at regular intervals. Even then, chief ministers and their cabinet colleagues may occasionally need to take their cases directly to the capital. But if state cabinets, led by chief ministers, have to regularly go to New Delhi to lobby for projects and funds, there must be something seriously wrong with the system.
Mr Munda’s exercise ceases to be a laughing matter when one thinks of the drain it must have caused on the exchequer of one of the country’s poorest states. By planning to hold such “review meetings” in New Delhi regularly, he seems to have completely ignored their financial burden on the taxpayer. The absurdity of the idea was exposed by none other than the president, Mr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, whom Mr Munda and five of his colleagues met and requested to intervene to save the town of Jharia from underground fire and subsidence. By advising them to take the matter up with the coal minister, Mr Kalam indirectly showed them the right way to deal with administrative matters. It is surprising that Central leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, to which Mr Munda belongs, did not dissuade him from trying out this fanciful politics. Having succeeded Mr Babulal Marandi, who was ousted by a revolt within his cabinet, Mr Munda understandably needs to make a show of his cabinet’s solidarity with him. But he would do well to show it in Ranchi, where conflicts within the ruling coalition take a toll on the administration. He has plenty of pressing problems at home, particularly the twin challenge of poverty and Maoist extremism. His ministers had better spend time in Ranchi and other parts of the state monitoring development projects on the ground. They can hardly afford to waste public money on junkets to New Delhi.