With the farmers’ protest in Madhya Pradesh spilling over to the border districts in Rajasthan, farmers in Chittorgarh and Pratapgarh served an ultimatum on the State government to meet their demands for better crop prices, loan waivers and agricultural pensions.Amid the mounting anger following the death of five farmers in police firing in Mandsaur, farmers’ bodies agitating under the banner of Kisan Sangharsh Samiti announced that an indefinite strike would be launched in Pratapgarh next week if the government fails to address the issues raised by them.Condolence meetings were organised at Krishi Upaj Mandis and elsewhere in the two districts to pay homage to the deceased farmers. Farmers also halted trucks carrying fruits and vegetables and spilled milk on the streets on Tuesday and Wednesday, while trading activities at the Krishi Mandis were stopped.Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi landed at Dabok airport near Udaipur on Thursday and left for Mandsaur via Nimbahera in Chittorgarh district riding pillion on a motorcycle. He was stopped at Neemuch near the Rajasthan-Madhya Pradesh border and taken into preventive custody.Rajasthan Pradesh Congress president Sachin Pilot and leaders such as Girija Vyas, Digvijay Singh and Kamal Nath accompanied Mr. Gandhi. Mr. Gandhi was later released in the evening and allowed by the administration to meet the family members of farmers at the inter-State border.Mr. Gandhi said Congress was in solidarity with the families of farmers who had lost their lives and he would raise the farmers’ issues in the Parliament. “In [Narendra] Modi’s india, Rs.1.10 lakh crore of bad debts of corporate houses are written off, but not a single rupee of farmers’ loans is waived…Farmers are toiling to produce food for the country,” he said.In a tweet earlier in the day, Mr. Gandhi said the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh governments were “doing their best to prevent me” from entering M.P. and meeting the families of farmers killed in Mandsaur.Police have increased vigil in Pratapgarh district, which is barely 30 km away from Mandsaur. A delegation of farmers met Pratapgarh Collector Neha Giri and submitted a memorandum listing the demands for higher minimum support prices for their crops, inclusion of local crops in the MSP list and waiver of electricity bills.The All India Kisan Sabha, which is the CPI(M)’s farmers’ wing, has also decided to launch a State-wide agitation in support of the demands of farmers in Madhya Pradesh. “Problems of farmers in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are identical. We will burn the effigies of M.P. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan in the demonstrations to be held in different towns on Friday,” AIKS joint secretary Sanjay Madhav told The Hindu.Rebel Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ghanshyam Tiwari also warned that the discontent among farmers would create the similar problems for the Rajasthan government as those in Madhya Pradesh. “The farmers will adopt the path of agitation if the government ignores their plight. It is high time proper incentives were provided to the agriculture sector,” he said.
A 10-day-old infant who was injured during cross-border firing in Poonch sector on Sunday has succumbed to the injuries at a hospital there.“The baby was undergoing treatment but unfortunately he succumbed [late on Sunday],” Deputy Commissioner Poonch Rahul Yadav said.The infant and his mother, Fatima Jan, were injured in cross-border firing in Shahpur area of Poonch district on Sunday night.The baby was yet to be named, according to the family.According to officials, the Pakistani army started firing and mortar shelling around 7.30 p.m. in Bandi Chechian, Karmara and Kerni areas of Poonch sector on the Line of Control. “A total of three persons were treated at the Poonch hospital,” the official said.
If Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy was turned into a musical production, what form would it take? The Sound of Music, if only because of a set of song lyrics that seem to define his personality – the ones about out-pestering pests and driving hornets from nests? How about Swan Lake with,If Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy was turned into a musical production, what form would it take? The Sound of Music, if only because of a set of song lyrics that seem to define his personality – the ones about out-pestering pests and driving hornets from nests? How about Swan Lake with initial lyricism and grace followed by conspiracies against the Prince? Or perhaps Jesus Christ, Superstar, as an acknowledgement of the man’s overwhelming sense of self? Those are tame choices.The Indian captain’s saga most closely resembles a jatra, a morality play rooted in Bengali tradition, loaded with melodrama and histrionics. Except in Ganguly’s case everyone, exasperated selectors, chattering commentators and a billion armchair critics, wonder whether he understands the morals of his stories.In his 17 months as full-time captain, Ganguly has not courted trouble, he has married it and sprayed controversy all over Indian cricket like confetti. The euphoric series win over Australia is long past, and without warning his team now goes from magic to tragic and back again. They threw away a Test series win in Zimbabwe with an epidemic of kamikaze batting.Four straight one-day wins were followed by four straight losses setting off the murmurs: the Indian captain was too headstrong, he supported unsupportable players, annoyed the selectors with his contrarian ways (see box) and Sachin Tendulkar was talking elliptically about the job again. With the runs off his bat drying to a trickle, and 15 Test matches lined up in the next 12 months in South Africa, the West Indies and England, it’s open season on Sourav Ganguly, captain and batsman.advertisementThose Who RaveArun Lal”He could either be criticised to hell or go on to become our best captain.” Arun Lal, Former PlayerKiran More”He’s doing a great job. This is a team game. It is our batting that is failing.” Kiran More, Former PlayerB.S. Bedi”A captain’s place should be a certainty on the team. Ganguly’s is not.” B.S. Bedi, Former CaptainK. Srikkanth”Ganguly and the team look confused and woefully short in planning.” K. Srikkanth, Former CaptainA telephone poll carried out by a Mumbai newspaper asked whether Ganguly should be summarily sacked as skipper, and of 3,180 callers in a seven-hour period 2,328 said he should be. Those figures would be turned on their head in Kolkata but that’s just the job.Captaincy is a lofty profession, intended for men above the ordinary who, like stars from 1950s movie posters, gaze out into the future, eyes shining into the long term. Skippers are supposed to have a gravitas, a quiet wisdom and an iron-fisted control over their feelings-all distinctly non-Gangulian character traits.Last week, he became the first captain to be suspended for a match for showing dissent twice. His crime hardly matched the punishment-twitching in the umpire’s direction for about four seconds-but the day he came off suspension, Ganguly had to be dragged away from raining profanities on Sri Lankan batsmen. He was fined 75 per cent of his match fee.There isn’t another skipper in the world with such a quick lip or such a short fuse, and what’s more he’s Indian, that tribe which usually turns the other cheek. Ganguly, not into Gandhism, probably thinks that means being even more cheeky.A couple of weeks ago, with memories of the sudden capitulations in Zimbabwe still fresh, he asked the chairman of selectors, Chandu Borde, why they didn’t consider appointing him for a year and dispense with the series-by-series appointments.Borde brushes this off as a casual remark, describing Ganguly as a “nice boy”. Many think not. Bishan Singh Bedi, a former captain as fiery as the current one, is unimpressed. He says Ganguly’s behaviour has set a bad example and his poor batting has diluted his authority.A board official calls the man’s captaincy “third-rate”. Australian Ian Chappell once even called him “a pretty stupid captain” on air. Throw a stone anywhere and a Ganguly critic will emerge, rubbing his head, asking for Ganguly’s.Arun Lal, a former captain who led Bengal and Ganguly, holds firm, “As captain he will either go down as the best India has seen or end up being criticised to hell and back.” Like the opinions about him, Ganguly swings between two uncomplicated extremes: face to face he is reasonable and urbane, at the head of his team he is instantly inflammable.When he is happy, he dances around his fielders, when he is angry, he hollers. He doesn’t eat meat on Tuesday, supports East Bengal football club, and is currently an Adnan Sami maniac. His thumb rule: Shoot first, worry about casualties later.advertisementA selector who has sat in meetings with India’s past three captains says their operating procedures were as varied as their batting styles. Mohammed Azharuddin was the most “polished”, Tendulkar “not pushy” and Ganguly would never die wondering.The selector says, “Sourav doesn’t mince his words. What he feels, he says. Azhar would accept what you said, Sachin would ask you for a reason and never broach the topic again. Sourav will try to convince selectors again and again. He doesn’t sulk, but he doesn’t give up easily.”Nothing like the Ganguly of 1992 or even 1996 when he made his famous comeback. That one was withdrawn and quiet to the point of being invisible. Captaincy has come to the Kolkatan like a pat on his back. It has squared his shoulders, set his jaw and over-ridden that seriously uncool moustache.Some believe that leadership has only given the already lordly left-hander an arrogance above his abilities, but there are others who say he brings some missing spice to the job. “For how much longer are we going to be the good boys of cricket?” says a former player.India’s most venerated leader M.A.K. Pataudi thinks Ganguly settled into the India captaincy well because “he is not overawed by the job”. Going by his ICC match referee rap sheet, some would say he’s somewhat “underwhelmed”. Here is where the Ganguly jatra takes a surprising turn: his team doesn’t care what the world thinks.As a young player he was accused of being aloof and obsessed with his own batting. Today his teammates single out communication as his most outstanding quality. When opener Sadagopan Ramesh was being roasted by the TV experts, Ganguly told him he was sure Ramesh would finish with a better average than “those guys”.Nervous first-timers are reassured with constant peptalk. The ritual of debutants receiving their Test caps, as celebration and welcome, is now performed outdoors in front of the cameras on Ganguly’s insistence.Players don’t mind being pulled up for misfielding from a captain not quite Jonty Rhodes himself. “It looks worse on TV than it actually is,” says one. “It’s just his way of telling us to do the right thing. It starts and finishes on the ground,” says another.They are loyal to their cowboy captain because he believes in being liberal with chances. When they let him down, like in Sri Lanka he’s equally liberal with criticism. “It’s unfortunate but true-these guys lack the temperament to play in the international arena. They have this problem of attitude,” he let rip at the young batsmen.Ganguly versus the selectorsHIS BOYS: Yuvraj Singh (left) and Agarkar are Ganguly’s pet candidatesAs captain Ganguly has often driven the selectors crazy. The five-man committee has found itself paying heed to the captain and then wondering why it even bothered.For the Sri Lanka tri-series, Ganguly specifically singled out Madhya Pradesh hard-hitter Amay Khurasia to replace the injured Tendulkar. He was pulled out of English league cricket but played in only two matches.advertisementYuvraj Singh, rated highly by the captain, was instead given plenty of chances to play himself into form.Despite nothing to show from Zimbabwe, Ajit Agarkar made the Lanka tour where he was a tourist, suffering from sunstroke while sitting in the window seat of the aircraft to Colombo.”Sourav has left us in the dark and without answers,” says a selector. His captaincy though seems alittle more secure than his popularity.”This is no time to change captains. What can he do if the batting lets the team down?” says one selector.Another wants to give the Kolkatan the long rope to see how he will fare on tougher overseas tours.But captaincy is not all about sound and fury, no matter if it’s entertaining. Mike Brearley, who led England in 31 Tests despite a career batting average of just 22, listed what a modern captain should be: “Loving and tough, straightforward and crafty, ready to gamble everything and wishing to have everything, generous and greedy, trusting and suspicious.” The greatest of captains manage to be all of those things at the same time. The apprentices, Ganguly included, embrace them sporadically.Anshuman Gaekwad, who has played under five India captains and been coach to three, says Ganguly’s biggest strength is his aggression but would like him to be a little more tactically flexible.Last year in the ICC Knock Out Trophy final, Gaekwad wanted Ganguly to bowl Yuvraj Singh at Chris Cairns to make the tall New Zealander stretch and put his weight on an injured knee. “Sourav thought that because he played left-arm spinners so well so could Cairns and he didn’t want to try.” Cairns won the title for New Zealand.Maninder Singh thinks his handling of his second-string bowlers needs to be more thoughtful. Bowlers define captains in two groups: those who give them fields they want and those who don’t. Azharuddin belonged to the former, particularly with his favourite spinners, Tendulkar gave bowlers a couple of overs headstart before setting his own positions and Ganguly is a fifty-fifty man.He will go halfway but no more if it does not suit the strategy he has in mind. He remains a leader driven largely by instinct-whether it means changing tactics in the five minutes it takes to walk from dressing room to the middle or a surprise declaration, like the one that caught Zimbabwe off guard in the Delhi Test last year, when India were only 30-odd ahead.A captain’s skill lies in knowing when to trust common sense and strategy and when to go by gut feel. “You either win or lose; I don’t believe in draws,” he says but victories, specially overseas, are carved out by predictable things like long hours of occupying the crease and being patient during bad sessions in the field.Ganguly’s supporters-and they do exist-believe a longer spell and some maturity will take care of that. If Ganguly the Test batsman survives till then. Going by his form, a minefield of trouble awaits him in the middle. The slump is not a recent byproduct of Steve Waugh’s “disintegration” campaign. It has come over a two season period: in his past 10 Tests he has averaged 23.31, and hasn’t scored a 50 in his last five (ave.13.33). Bedi believes, “His fallibility as a batsman has been detected and he has not made much effort to rectify his batting technique.After a few years, it happens to all batsmen and then the strength of character takes you to the next stage.” Ex-India player Ashok Malhotra, who counts himself more a friend than a selector, says, “He’s too good a batsmen for us to be worried. He will find a way.”It’s been an adrenaline-charged first year and today captain Ganguly has proved that he can go eyeball to eyeball with any opposition and not take a backward step. To mature as a leader now he must seek the middle ground between power and responsibility.He clearly enjoys and is at ease with power. But in the Tests against Sri Lanka, Sourav Ganguly, a central figure in a batting line-up with more reputations than runs nowadays, must take on greater responsibility.
It was like a convoluted crime plot ending without identifying the murderer. It was a tale without a denouement, an exercise without a goal, a gesture without a motion.The seventh convulsion in Mrs Gandhi’s Council of Ministers which last fortnight led to an increase in its strength to 61 from,It was like a convoluted crime plot ending without identifying the murderer. It was a tale without a denouement, an exercise without a goal, a gesture without a motion.The seventh convulsion in Mrs Gandhi’s Council of Ministers which last fortnight led to an increase in its strength to 61 from 55, stared the millions of its bemused spectators in the face as just another barren game politicians play, outwardly to reassure themselves but in effect laying bare their own innate weaknesses and their native sense of insecurity.The reshuffle of September 2, involving seven of her 18 Cabinet colleagues, downgrading three crucial departments, hiring eight new hands, and firing two, came in the wake of months of nail-chewing speculation.Partymen claiming inside knowledge first prophesied changes around the third week of August, then pushed it forward to the last week. But Mrs Gandhi herself added her characteristic twist to the proceedings when, three days before the reshuffle, she remarked: “Talk of a reshuffle has become a permanent joke.” She was right, though in a way which she had not perhaps intended.The first thing that struck flustered observers was its all-embracing purposelessness. In a democratic set-up, periodic stirring up of the Cabinet serves the three-fold purpose of winnowing out the chaff, infusion of new blood, and keeping ministers in trim. Oddly enough, none of these purposes were served. Said an affected minister sardonically: “It’s the classic prescription of the pharmacist: shake the bottle before use, but it’s the same mixture.”After the portfolio switches, 27 of Mrs Gandhi’s ministers, or roughly every second member of the ministerial council, found himself in a new office, and addressing himself to new problems. Considering the fact that no reshuffle of such dimensions had taken place during the 33 months of her rule, it could well have marked a starting over. Yet it did not. With a rare cynicism she passed up this opportunity, exactly midway through her current tenure, to realise at last her 1980 poll-clinching slogan: ‘Elect The Government That Works’.advertisementLike the constant clatter of the shuttle on a loom, Mrs Gandhi’s ministers wove like patterns on a crazy quilt between the endless array of the capital’s bhavans. With not a single addition to the Cabinet, nor a single subtraction, the custody of the mamoth empires in the sarkar changed hands. The departments were split and fused together like the squares in a Rubik’s Cube.”Like the constant clatter of the shuttle on the loom, Mrs Gandhi’s ministers wove like patterns on a crazy quilt between the endless array of the capital’s bhavans. With not a single addition to the Cabinet, nor a single subtraction, the custody of the mammoth empires in the sarkar changed hands.”Only five new ministers of state and three new deputy ministers were sworn in: but their entry heralded a chain of changes in the combination of deparments. Of the 59 departments that are managed by secretary-level officials, 27 woke up the next day to greet at least one new minister. The pattern changed, but not the wool. It was a painfully elaborate exercise in shuttling and reshuttling the same jaded bunch.Endless Shuttle: The reshuffle was actuated by the resignation of Giani Zail Singh as home minister in the month of June. It made sense that the Giani’s berth would be filled by a senior Cabinet minister and an impression had gained ground that some minister with an untainted public reputation, such as External Affairs Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, would get the home portfolio. But Mrs Gandhi sprang a surprise even on the most determined gambler-against-odds when she named Prakash Chand Sethi, 62, the man who had only recently taken the flak for the controversial Kuo Oil deal (India Today, July 31), as the home minister.A chain reaction followed. The bumptious Ghani Khan Chowdhury, the erstwhile energy minister, moved up the ladder to replace Sethi in the more prestigious Railway Ministry. The energy portfolio, in its turn, was hitched on to the Petroleum Ministry. And, the petroleum minister, finding his plate too full, had to part with chemicals and fertilizers, which ultimately went to Vasant Sathe, the former information and broadcasting (I&B) minister.The orphaned I&B Ministry was promptly given to new entrant N.K.P. Salve, as a minister of state with independent charge. In the same sweep, however, Anant Prasad Sharma, the befuddled minister for civil aviation and tourism, lost his twin empire, which was bifurcated and parcelled out to the independent care of two ministers of state, Bhagwat Jha Azad and Khursheed Alam Khan.advertisementSharma hopped across to the far less glamorous Communications Ministry, while its beleaguered occupant, C.M. Stephen, moved over to the duller charge of shipping and transport, thus displacing its minister, Veerendra Patil, who moved over to the labour portfolio.Lower Levels: Around this scheme of musical chairs was built the sub-plot involving deputy ministers and ministers of state. It thickened with the delayed exit of S.S. Sisodia and Charanjit Chanana, ministers of state who had for five long months been on the firing line as their Rajya Sabha membership had expired in April without the party high command bothering to accommodate them.The Chanana-Sisodia tragedy was partially made light of by the inclusion of new persons , and the place-hopping, which had originally started as the innocent search for a new home minister, multiplied in magnitude like a dab of ink on a blotting paper.But the changes were not marked by any clockwork planning; on the other hand, they bore the stamp of tired minds trying to wrap up a job without any preparatory work. The gaffes were exposed slowly and by instalments, as newer changes were ordered on September 5 and September 11.”…the men in charge of most of the important portfolios were changing faster than patterns in a kaleidoscope. Thus the labour minister was changed six times, works and housing four times, education three times, tourism three times, civil supplies four times, railways four times, petroleum four times, shipping and transport four times and commerce three times. Even the sensitive Defence Ministry… witnessed four changes since 1980.”Some of the gaffes were quite ludicrous, typical clerical blunders. There was no apparent reason for the Coal Department to go to Narain Dutt Tiwari when his shoulders were overburdened with industry as well as steel and mines. So presto, days later it was withdrawn from him and hitched on to Shiv Shanker’s sprawling but homogenous empire of petroleum and energy.Far down the hierarchical ladder, Kalpnath Rai, deputy minister for parliamentary affairs, was upset as he suddenly found Delhi strongman H.K.L. Bhagat foisted over his head as minister of state. Rai, a burly ex-wrestler, burst into tears before Mrs Gandhi, and she tossed a pacifier into his mouth by way of the additional deputy ministership in the Industry Ministry.The holes in the blueprint kept exposing themselves with every passing hour. The last echo of the reshuffle actually died down nine days later when Mohsina Kidwai, the affable Uttar Pradesh MP and chief of the state Congress(I) unit, was sworn in as minister of state. With Kidwai’s appointment, the President’s office celebrated the cranking out of its 42nd notification of ministerial changes in 33 months: one change every 23 days. Said a minor cog in New Delhi’s mind-boggling bureaucratic wheel: “At this rate more ministers will pass through the ministries than tourists passing through India Gate.”Secret Moves: The changes, though signifying no bold departure from the past, were nevertheless shrouded in impenetrable secrecy. Only R.K. Dhawan, special assistant to the prime minister, was privy to the decisions and that too for the most practical of reasons: he had to type out the three-page official letter to the President. The Cabinet Secretariat was totally in the dark; so were the much-trumpeted independent advisers to the prime minister, including G. Parthasarathy, who heard the news on the radio.advertisementSo tight was the veil of secrecy that only two of the five new ministers of state and two of the three new deputy ministers were present at the brief swearing-in ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on September 2. Bhagat had in fact gone to attend a function at Raj Niwas, home of the Lt-Governor of Delhi, to welcome its new incumbent Jagmohan, when the news reached him and he had to rush in.Ramachandra Rath, the newly appointed minister of state for chemicals and fertilizers, had just locked up his MP flat on Pandara Road and gone home to Orissa, thus being obliged to be away from the swearing-in ceremony. Ashok Gehlot, who made it at the last moment, had been planning to leave for home the same evening.The secrecy was as if born out of diffidence. It seemed as though Mrs Gandhi was reluctant to disoblige anyone. She did not sack a single Cabinet minister, a benignness which is quite out of character, considering her record of dropping nine Cabinet ministers in the four years between 1971 and 1975.Even in the post-1980 period she had suddenly got tough and sacked two of her Cabinet ministers, Kamalapati Tripathi, the old and venerable father-figure from Uttar Pradesh and Vidya Charan Shukla, the debonair leader from Madhya Pradesh. But an inexplicable softness overtook her recently, preventing her from using the boot.Critical Views: A large section of the media dismissed the changes as an exercise in futility. The Indian Express captioned its strongly-worded editorial on the subject – almost predictably – as ‘A Permanent Joke’.The Statesman called the changes a “fatuous exercise” and wrote editorially that these “will not serve anyone any purpose”. Even a steadfast admirer of Mrs Gandhi like Inder Malhotra, resident editor of The Times of India, was moved to admit that “the exercise appears to have been without any clear pattern or purpose”.The appointment of Sethi as the home minister showed best the sign of the times. The Home Ministry, with its vertiginous labyrinth of powerful departments, including the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Intelligence Bureau, has always been a happy hunting ground for the party in power.Under Giani Zail Singh, the Home Ministry became a willing vehicle for carrying out even the smallest of orders from the Prime Minister’s Secretariat. Sethi is reputed to be a match for the Giani in his readiness to cooperate with the high command.Days later, Congress(I) circles, particularly those claiming inside knowledge, came up with piecemeal explanations for the reshuffle. The arguments that are being trotted out include:Mrs Gandhi chose Sethi as home minister precisely because he was under attack from the Opposition. This was her unique way of cocking a snook at the Opposition;with Sethi’s appointment, Mrs Gandhi also shuffled down two of her ministers who had proved patently incompetent, such as CM, Stephen and A.P. Sharma;she wanted to rap Vasant Sathe on the knuckles for his conciliatory gestures to the press on the Bihar Bill, though Mrs Gandhi prefers the relationship to stay generally embattled;she also wanted a second rung of ministers from the minority communities to come up, and thus she arrayed N.K.P. Salve, a Christian, and Mohsina Kidwai behind Stephen and Khan Chowdhury;the creation of separate departments for sports in the charge of Buta Singh non-conventional sources with C.P.N. Singh and environment under Digvijay Singh indicate new importance to these areas,she also intended to infuse young blood: hence, the choice of Ramachandra Rath as minister of state and Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ashok Gehlot as deputy ministers;that Rath, who has an independent power base in Orissa was being elected as an alternative to Chief Minister J.B. Patnaik; andthe choice of Delhi MP H.K.L. Bhagat was entirely in line with the boomerang-like return of Lt-Governor Jagmohan to the capital, both being intended to help the Congress(I) win the impending elections to the Delhi Metropolitan Council.Fair is foul, and foul is fair. A similar cynical reversal of values overtook Mrs Gandhi as she ordered the Cabinet changes. Gone was the principle of punishment-and-reward. Forgotten was the norm that men in public life should not only be clean but also appear to be so, and those who violated it should be at least removed from centre-stage.On the contrary, the reshuffle put a premium on inefficiency, on hamfistedness and on brazen disregard of values. It stood out in stark contrast to the standards set by the late Jawanarlal Nehru when he had accepted the resignation of his finance minister, T.T. Krishnamachari, after his name got involved in the notorious Haridas Mundhra scandal.But this stubbornness too was in character with her, as was this haughty, amoral and contemptuous rejection of accusations levelled at her team-mates by the Opposition. But what was totally out of character was the dithering over the final list of changes, the confusion and the moments of absolute indecision. For nine days, she kept on changing the list, playing with her Tweedledums and Tweedledees, and yet could not arrive at a final solution.Allocation of portfolios is a delicate exercise in two ways: choosing the personnel and then allocating the portfolios. Clustering of two portfolios in one ministerial hand is inevitable as there will always be more departments than ministers.But to select the allied fields, the ministries that can be connected through a symbiotic link, demands precise understanding of the Government. This time Mrs Gandhi attempted to re-cluster the portfolios, was successful in some cases, but failed in most others.Illogical Allocations: Petroleum, for instance, had become a gargantuan department in itself and thus its de-linking from chemicals and fertilizers was generally regarded as fully justified. Also logical was the yoking together of the twin departments of petroleum and energy, which, with the addition of coal, became a compact authority to decide on all matters pertaining to non-nuclear and non-conventional sources of energy. But down the line the re-clustering of other portfolios turned out to be a mindless clerical exercise.Thus, civil supplies and civil aviation got tagged together by their only visible link, the word ‘civil’; the same deputy minister was entrusted with both labour and rehabilitation; Rai, as deputy minister, was asked to lend his weighty presence to both parliamentary affairs and industries; C.P.N. Singh, as minister of state, was made answerable to two bosses, the prime minister herself as she retained the science and technology portfolio, and Shiv Shanker, as Singh’s other charge as minister of state for non-conventional energy sources came under him.It was one of the messiest misalliances of Central portfolios. Said Rai: “I’ve no problem; I can manage both.” Singh hastened to rationalise: “There is a thematic resemblance between science and technology on one hand and non-conventional energy sources on the other. This is more important than the fact that I’m under two ministers.”The bureaucrats in the ministerial corridors are far less enthusiastic. Said an official: “The deputy ministers are not direct decision-makers, but they sit on various intra- and inter-ministerial committees. Now it will be a hard task to get their dates or even to acquaint them with the problems that are to be discussed at the meetings.” Azad, the minister of state for civil supplies as well as civil aviation, may, for instance, have to divide his week between the two ministries the way Pranab Mukherjee, the minister for finance, used to divide the week between commerce and steel and mines when he held both charges. “This is counter-productive,” observed the official.Fast Shifts: The changes, made with a veneer of administrative expediency, betrayed a singular restlessness in the highest echelons of power, an indecisiveness which bordered on a sense of insecurity. In fact the men in charge of most of the important portfolios were changing faster than patterns in a kaleidoscope. Thus since January 1980 the labour minister changed six times, works and housing four times, education three times, tourism three times, civil suplies four times, railways four times, petroleum four times, shipping and transport four times, and commerce three times. Even the sensitive Defence Ministry, which calls for a stable leadership, witnessed four changes since 1980. Only the external affairs minister was left undisturbed, but that too because of the fact that it is Mrs Gandhi herself who calls the shots in the ministry.The slapdash changes indicate, if anything, Mrs Gandhi’s constant, and frustrating, search for the right man for the right job. But, strangely enough, the search is confined to only a handful of men and it meticulously keeps out those Congress(I) MP’s who have an earlier record of public service or have images of their own.New 20-point programme posters in Delhi: A faltering commitment?Thus, nonentities in the Maratha politics of Maharashtra, such as Shivraj Patil and Vijay Patil, find toe-holds in the ministerial council while veteran Maratha leaders like Y.B. Mohite or Premalatai Chavan, both MP’s and both with a record of unswerving loyalty to Mrs Gandhi, do not find places.Similarly, a rather lightweight Ashok Gehlot can work his way into the council from Rajasthan, but the claims of Mool Chand Daga, a veteran in the state’s politics, are disregarded. From Andhra Pradesh, the state that elected Mrs Gandhi, Pattabhi Rama Rao, whose only qualification is that he belongs to the same caste as that of N.T. Rama Rao, matinee idol and the Congress(I)’s arch enemy, makes the grade as minister of state for finance, while Brahmananda Reddy, a former Union home minister, merely looks on. Mrs Gandhi allows Khan Chowdhury the luxury of hopping on to the prestigious Railway Ministry after an undistinguished record as energy minister; at the same time she refuses to utilise the services of Ashok Sen, a veteran MP, star lawyer of the country and former Union law minister.Raw Hands: Said a former aide of Mrs Gandhi, now reflecting on times past and present from his retirement: “There was a time when she was not afraid of bringing in people who were equally talented, or even more talented. That was indeed her strength. Now she is afraid of talent the way – I’m sorry to use the analogy – nocturnal animals are afraid of light.”For instance, except Mrs Gandhi and Sethi, there is not a single member of the present Cabinet with ministerial experience of more than one term. In 1971, on the other hand, she chose a team with as many as four experienced men, even though the split in the party two years earlier had marked a total break with the past.The gnawing anxiety to steer clear of experienced, rooted men also marks Mrs Gandhi’s unique way of handling the delicate issue of allowing regional representation . The gigantic state of Uttar Pradesh, with 67 Congress(I) MP’s, has only one Cabinet-rank minister while Karnataka, with only 36 MP’s, has three.Haryana, with its seven MP’s, has one Cabinet minister while Punjab, with 13 MP’s, has none. West Bengal, with its tenuous contingent of just four Congress(I) MP’s, finds a representation in the Cabinet; but Rajasthan, with 27 MP’s, has the nominal representation of just two deputy ministers.A fuller, proportionate representation to the states depends upon the party high command’s willingness to open up the Cabinet to democratic forces, to select personnel not on the basis of its own threat perception but on the prime consideration of acknowledging the strength of each state unit of the party.Observed H.N. Bahuguna, MP and leader of the Democratic Socialist Party: “Mrs Gandhi wants gutless politicians like N.D. Tiwari, who earned the sobriquet of ‘New Delhi’ Tiwari during the Emergency, to overshadow all others. She doesn’t want an alternative leadership to grow in the state.”Akbar Ahmed, Maneka Gandhi’s lieutenant, rammed home the point further when he said: “Uttar Pradesh is the private fiefdom of Rajiv Gandhi and Arun Nehru. No person who can tower above them will be tolerated. You extend the same logic to the entire country, and you’ll find that she has chosen only the weeds from every state, leaving out the tall trees.”The overriding consideration in the ministerial sweepstakes has been just one: loyalty to Mrs Gandhi, Brahmananda Reddy and Yeshwantrao Chavan, both high-powered leaders in their home states, who had served for years in the Union Cabinet, were kept hanging in limbo just because they had once rebelled against Mrs Gandhi. In contrast, Stephen and Sharma managed to hang on to the Cabinet by the skin of their teeth only because there was no red ink mark on their dossiers of obedience to the prime minister.Shrinking Power: A minister is not a decorative centre-piece and the ministerial chair is not a fountainhead of power without responsibility. It is the duty of a minister to assess the problems of his department, to plan for the future as well as the present, to get the plan implemented and to defend his department’s activities on the floor of the House.Cabinet ministers seeing off Mrs Gandhi and Rajiv: Premium on loyaltyBut the Government under Mrs Gandhi, over the years, has witnessed only a constant shrinking of the minister’s stature, effected first by her choice of personnel, and then by constantly shuttling them around. Obsessed with the idea of not letting grass grow under the ministerial feet, all she has achieved is to raise a battery of superficial men, lacking specific understanding of any particular subject.Ministers are often not to blame as none of them possesses superhuman intellect. Before they get the hang of a particular ministry, they are packed off to something entirely dissimilar. Said an official: “What will poor P.C. Sethi do? He moved so abruptly between housing and railways that it’s but natural for him to confuse between housing stock and rolling stock. And Vasant Sathe is obviously wedged between culture and agriculture.” Only the babudom is unchanged and stoically regards the entry and exit of ministers as a mere passing show.Mrs Gandhi has added a new element to the systematic downgrading of the institution of ministers by taking more and more departments away from the charge of Cabinet members and putting them into the hands of ministers of state. Thus, with no representation at the Cabinet level, the affairs of I&b, civil aviation and tourism are now relegated to secondary importance.The ministers of state in charge of them, Salve, Bhagwat Jha Azad and Khursheed Alam Khan, can no doubt preside over the day-to-day administration of the ministries, but long-term decisions, or those of a controversial nature, will all be taken now at the prime minister’s level, and then routed through the Cabinet where the concerned ministries have no spokesmen.What has she achieved by shoving the 27 men and women up and down a hierarchical line? The answer, perhaps, lies embedded in her unique mental reflexes, in the see-saw rhythm of inertia and aggression that has marked the last 33 months of her rule. She was at the top of her form in the first six months, till Sanjay died in June and her life-force sank to its lowest depth.With her, the party and the Government floundered (India Today, September 16-30, 1980). The drained batteries were recharged to the full nine months later when she bounced back into the fighting arena, and unhesitatingly fired Vidya Charan Shukla from the Cabinet (India Today, April 1-15, 1981).The expansion of the Council of Ministers was itself a none too subtle move aimed at assuaging hurt feelings and building bridges with the dissidents by throwing a few ministerial crumbs from the table. But there are more dissidents than crumbs and the reshuffle is naturally followed by heartburn, frustration and griping in private.Still bitterer are the ministers who have been downgraded, sidelined, or at least not openly patted on the back. To expect them to close ranks is to put an impossible demand on the party. She also frittered away the gilt-edged opportunity that she got in 1980 when as many as 150 freshers stormed their way into the Lok Sabha, all waiting to be reared and trained into mature administrators.It is only now, after 35 months, that she is admitting a trickle of the young MPs into the corridors of power. The inclusion of Rath, Azad and Gehlot into the Council of Ministers this time is itself a muted but sure acceptance of the strident charge that the younger generation of Congressmen, who had singularly pulled her out of the pit during the Janata period, was now being conveniently sidelined. The seventh Lok Sabha has 103 under-40 Congress(I) MPs, but their representation in the Council of Ministers is on a disproportionately low key.A senior Congress(I) office-bearer, obviously distressed by the turn of events, bitterly summed up the situation: “There’s no leadership at the top. There’s no leadership at the bottom. There’s only a vast army of middle-rankers, of mediocre men and women basking in the reflected glory of the prime minister. I’m not sure if they can hold the reins of the state as the run-up to the 1985 general elections begins and the need arises to hasten the pace of development all around.”There are already slacks in the Government which the ministers are quite incapable of pulling in. Prices are again on the rise, the official wholesale price index having gone up 6 per cent in the last six months, and the foreign reserve, which stood at Rs 4,800 crore (excluding gold and special drawing rights) on April 1, 1981, is now down to Rs 3,634 crore.The foreign trade deficit today has reached a whopping Rs 5,000 crore, and there is no way of cutting it as Indian exports get slowly edged out of the world market while the import bill rises in almost geometric progression.There are disconcerting indications that even the much touted new 20-point plan (India Today, February 28) is heading for a dismal failure. An interim implementation report of the Planning Commission, monitoring progress of the plan over the April-June quarter this year, concluded that altogether 17 of the 20 points could not be implemented even to the extent of a mere 25 per cent of the target. The report’s further shocking revelations are:achievement has been as low as 7 per cent in providing house sites;targets for sterilisation fell short by an astonishing 90.9 per cent;the programme of providing assistance to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe members was ahieved up to just 6.8 per cent and 5.3 per cent of the targets;only 8.9 per cent of the needy poor were given assistance for building houses; anda mammoth and problem-ridden state, such as Bihar, exceeded the target in only one of the 16 points that it had taken up, the figures for some other states being Assam: three out of 10, Haryana: two out of 14, Karnataka: three out of 14; Kerala: two out of 14; Madhya Pradesh: three out of 16; Tamil Nadu: four out of 11; and Uttar Pradesh: two out of 14.With such a depressing track record of her government, and the constant drift of the economy towards a new pit of stagnation, Mrs Gandhi cannot but look up to a few capable managers to show a way out of the present impasse. She has no visible challenge, at least not from the fragmeated ranks of the opposition parties. The only threat to her is the wayward drift of her government, a trend, which, if not checked, can be turned by the Opposition to its advantage.The present Council of Ministers is unlikely to go through any drastic changes at least till next year, when elections take place in the two Congress(I) citadels of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka as well as in Assam, Tripura and Jammu & Kashmir. The electorate needs at least tangible evidence that the Congress(I) at the Centre is both willing and capable before it votes the party back to power in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In Assam, the protracted movement has already churned up a credible Opposition, and signs of drift and vacillation at the Centre will only enhance a final collapse of the weak Congress(I) edifice in the state. In Tripura and Jammu & Kashmir where the Congress(I), as the main opposition party, harbours the ambition of capturing power and is raring to go, inaction and inertia at the Centre can compel it to stop in its track.Failed Hopes: Last year when Rajiv joined the party to “help mummy” it was widely believed that his role would be to scout for talents to build up a new team from scratch, and to bring about – in the benign shadow of his mother – a smooth transition of generations in leadership. But such hopes are yet to be realised, if at all.For the moment, Mrs Gandhi is obviously anxious to ensure that Rajiv’s slow and limping journey towards the seat of power is not interrupted by road blocks. This perhaps explains her persistent insistence on loyalty as prime qualification and refusal to usher into the Cabinet people with experience who might grow into figures of strength on their own merit. After all, she had to contend with too many ‘experienced’ people herself after her accession to power in 1966. Said a senior member of her government, in an unguarded moment: “Hum to sub plate par chamche hain. Kabhi iss plate par, kabhi us plate par (We are just chamchas on a plate: sometimes on one plate and sometimes on another).”Slowly but surely, Rajiv himself joined the juggernaut-like Congress establishment which he could not beat. The latest reshuffle confirmed it; with the exception of Jagannath Kaushal, the law minister who had been inducted in the post-Sanjay era, not a single member of the Cabinet that Sanjay had virtually hand-picked has been changed.Mrs Gandhi gets into her elements only when she is faced with real challenges, either from within the country or from outside. During the Emergency and after, she was aglow with vitality because of the challenges that stared her in the face. Also it was Sanjay who became her fighting arm, her one-man army. It remains to be seen if Rajiv can become a fighter when the crunch comes.Right now for her time is of the essence. She needs time to galvanise the ministers and to derive from them that much of the short burst of energy which is just needed to clinch the race. She needs time for the middle-rankers to mature. She needs time for the young ministers to grow in experience, forming into a reserve pool of talents. Above everything else, she needs time to precision-hone her team again into a sharp-edged scythe when rust has enveloped the steel.But she has only 27 months, or 835 days, to go before the elections. Even at this late hour, can she turn the Government’s lackadaisical canter into a feisty, winning gallop? Can she cut bureaucratic corners and prove her mettle again even though the sand steadily runs out of her hour-glass? If the indecisive, shoddily planned and half-baked reshuffle is an example, the odds are certainly stacked against her this time.
news José Mourinho Share on Twitter The Fiver: the Guardian’s take on the world of football Champions League Topics Reuse this content Read more Manchester United With Phil Jones and Eric Bailly suspended, their replacements, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof, will need to beware of Van Wolfswinkel. “I don’t think Bailly and Jones are better than them,” said Mourinho, whose side dropped their first Premier League points during the 2-2 draw at Stoke City on Saturday. “Even if Jones and Bailly weren’t suspended, probably I would still play Lindelof and Smalling. For me they’re the same level.”Nonetheless it appears an important night for Lindelof as the Sweden defender, signed from Benfica for £31m, starts his first game at Old Trafford. “I think it is easier for him to play Champions League,” Mourinho said. “It’s more comparable to the Portuguese style. He needs a little time to adapt to the Premier League but I’m more than confident about him. He’s a very good player with a very good potential. There are reasons for the other boys, Eric and Jones, to be worried because Victor’s a very good player.”He had similarly warm words for Marouane Fellaini who appears to be overcoming a calf problem. “He’s a very important player for me – much more important than what you can imagine,” Mourinho said. “I feel weaker without Fellaini in my squad.”Manchester United (possible 4-3-3) De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Lindelof, Blind; Fellaini, Matic, Pogba; Mata, Lukaku, Rashford.Basel (possible; 4-2-3-1): Vaclik; Lang, Suchy, Akanji, Riveros; Xhaka, Serey Die; Steffen, Zuffi, Bua; Wolfswinkel.Referee Ruddy Buquet (Fr) Basel Share on Pinterest Share on Facebook José Mourinho blames Marouane Fellaini’s absence for slip-up at Stoke Read more Share via Email Share on LinkedIn “In the Champions League there are four or five teams with an incredible level of quality, of experience, of know-how and that’s what makes the difference. But there are many other teams in the Champions League with very similar qualities to teams in the Europa League.”Accordingly Basel promise to represent a fairly gentle reintroduction to United’s favourite competition. Raphael Wicky was routinely described as “combative” during his days as a defensive midfielder for, among others, Hamburg but the 40-year-old’s new side are not yet cast in anything like a similarly formidable image.Indeed Wicky has endured a somewhat tough induction after years of working his way through the youth ranks at Basel resulted in his promotion from coaching the under-21s to managing the seniors this summer.Although the Swiss champions stand a respectable third in a Super League led by Zurich, they are 10 points worse off than this time last year and lost 2-1 at home against Lausanne last Saturday.Basel, close to the French and German borders and bisected by the Rhine, is better known for its museum-studded medieval centre complete with a handsome red standstone town hall and Gothic cathedral than the local football club. Yet even in the relatively genteel context of St Jakob-Park, there seems a sense of pressure building.Ricky van Wolfswinkel hopes to ease it. He may have been branded a Premier League flop during an underwhelming stint with Norwich City but, on the European mainland, it is a very different story for a striker averaging more than a goal a game. Share on WhatsApp José Mourinho feels Manchester United will be back in their “natural habitat” when they return to Champions League combat for the first time in 644 days against Basel at Old Trafford on Tuesday night.“To be in the Champions League is just to go back to the natural habitat, season after season, for Manchester United,” the manager said. “I look forward to tomorrow and hope Old Trafford feels it in the same way we feel it. Our motivation’s high. We’ll try to qualify and enjoy that special knockout phase with the best teams in Europe.”Although last season was only the second campaign in 22 years in which United had been absent from the competition, Mourinho was not about to dismiss the Europa League, which his team won. “I enjoyed it,” he said. Share on Messenger