May 20, 2008

Ministers from Maharashtra disappoint

What is really wrong with the senior Ministers from Maharashtra at the Centre?

It is a well recognized fact that governance in the State of Maharashtra has been at its lowest ebb since the last several years. The State has been suffering in developmental activities on virtually all fronts, protestations of the present Government notwithstanding.

The quality of the administration in the State is generally recognized as having deteriorated steadily. This is due in no small measure to the falling standards of the bureaucracy. The present lot of bureaucrats has been termed by those who are familiar with their workings as lethargic, indifferent or downright incompetent.

Vilasrao Deshmukh

More importantly, it is the performance of the political leadership in the State which has been completely lackluster. The Chief Minister of the State Vilasrao Deshmukh has done practically nothing to ensure that Maharashtra continues to remain in the forefront of development amongst the States and his performance would put to shame even the poor performance of his predecessor, Sushil Kumar Shinde. In fact, Vilasrao has been on the brink of losing his chair for quite some time according to grape vine. He has been holding on to his chair despite stiff opposition from even his own party men. For this, he must thank his luck and a combination of fortuitous developments happening that have delayed his departure. Incidentally, even his other colleagues in the State Cabinet do not seem to have shown any remarkable performance, although they keep targeting Vilasrao openly or obliquely.

If the performance of the State Govt. leader has been so disappointing, the three senior leaders from Maharashtra now in the Union Cabinet do not seem to have done any better.

Sushil Kumar Shinde

The suave and soft spoken Sushil Kumar Shinde has carried on with his file pushing even at the Centre as the Minister for Power. After he was eased out from the State and kicked upwards at the Centre, he has very little to show for his achievements with the Power portfolio that is crucial for the economic development of the country.

Shivraj Patil

Shivraj Patil, his colleague, also suave and soft spoken (a quality apparently liked by their party boss regardless of performance), has been the Home Minister at the Centre. During his tenure, no bold measures have been taken that have actually succeeded in containing terrorism and naxalism. On the contrary, the country has continued to witness escalation on both the fronts. Although law and order is a State subject, terrorism and naxalism are subjects where the Union Home Ministry has a major role to play in evolving a country wide strategy. The Home Ministry has failed to show any vision to tackle these problems in the wider perspective. The Home Minister seems to be all at sea and has so far succeeded only in enhancing the doubts and fears of the people. On the other hand, he continues to fumble when cornered by media with difficult and awkward questions like the delay in giving a recommendation to the President on the petition by Afzal Guru. Under his leadership, the Ministry even does not have an assessment of the extent of inflitration that is taking place from across the borders, especially Bangladesh. By no means is the task of the Home Minister of India is easy. But the task has to be done and cannot be left to someone who does not have a strong personality and a clear mind. The kind of wishy-washy image that Shivraj Patil has, could certainly be a factor that will embolden the terrorists to do worse than what they have done already.

Sharadrao Pawar

The performance of Sharad Pawar, the third Minister at the Centre from Maharashtra, has been the most disappointing and quite unexpectedly so. Sharad Pawar, a stalwart from Maharashtra has so far been regarded as a person with strong administrative capacity coupled with a modicum of foresight. Surprisingly, his stint as the Agriculture Minister has seen agriculture and agriculturists suffering a great deal. Instead of improvements in agriculture and sustainable growth, there have been no improvements worth noting. No long or short term strategy seems to exist and agriculture is largely left to the kindness or otherwise of the rain gods. The situation on the food security front is turning out to be precarious in his reign and the country appears to be on its way to food scarcity and cycles of imports as in the distant past. To add to this sordid state of affairs, there have been loud whispers of a scandal in massive imports of wheat that turned out to be unfit for either humans or animals.

Overall, the performance of Sharadrao Pawar as Agriculture Minister has, perhaps, been worse than that of any of his predecessors. Certainly amongst the three senior Ministers from Maharashtra working at the Centre, his tenure has been the most disappointing, given the fact that he, unlike the others, always gave the impression of a man who knew his business. Alas, the country is finding at a great cost to its food security that the faith in him has been misplaced. It seems that what he might be capable of achieving as a Chief Minister in his own State, he cannot achieve at the Centre.

In sum, all the three Ministers whose names by coincidence begin with “S” have let down the people of Maharashtra.