It happens only in India

It happens only in India. That a Power Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, responsible for the worst grid failure, not just in the country, but the world, is promoted to Home Minister on the very day the grid collapses. And he comes on television networks to brazenly justify the black out and resultant chaos for two successive days as having happened “even in the USA” in 2003 as if somehow that should make all of us feel happier, and more settled in our ‘stability.’ Then to top it all he gives himself an “excellent” rating as the Power Minister saying he electrified over a lakh of villages during his term in office. And then just as we were thinking this was more than we could handle, he goes on to take charge of the Union Home Ministry bowing and scraping before Congress president Sonia Gandhi for making a “Dalit” the Home Minister!

India is certainly growing, from the collapse of one grid affecting nine states we moved within 24 hours to three grids and 23 states. And at the end of it there was not a word of apology from any one in the UPA government, no emergency meetings by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who should have immediately got into action, with the Congress party and government focusing on making Shinde Home Minister and moving PC Chidambaram to the Finance Ministry despite the corruption charges against him. One is no expert to say why the grid collapsed but experts, many of them having served in different capacities in the government, are almost certain that the overdrawing of electricity by the states is just a small part of the problem. And the rest has to do with an archaic grid control technology that has not been revisited for years. Despite promises little has been done to increase power production and transmission capacities. Everyone knows that the demand has overtaken the supply but the question that needs to be asked and answered is: why has the government and Shinde as Power Minister not taken steps to increase the power supply? There has been not a single word about the government on this that has been allowed to get off the hook with the usual ramblings that reflect a total reluctance to come to grips with the problem. Poor infrastructure, bad maintenance, all indicators of apathy and indifference are clearly some of the major reasons behind the grid failure.
The embarrassment that could be expected after the grid failure hit global headlines was also missing in this government that has adopted the unflinching policy of never admitting fault, and shrugging all issues and problems aside. It is as if it never happened, and clearly given the line of argument established by Shinde that this happened in the US as well, not much can be expected from the government in terms of serious remedial action.

The deaths in Assam and the fact that lakhs have fled their homes in the terrible violence between Bodo tribals and the Muslims has also not elicited an adequate response from the government that seems not to be particularly concerned about the northeast and such border states anyways. The Pune blasts have hit Shinde on his first day in office and he has convened a high level meeting to assess the security situation in India. Just as Chidambaram had been doing before him. The platitudes remain the same, “we cannot rule out the terror angle”; “the blasts seem to be pre-planned”; “we will spare no one.” Meanwhile India chugs along not even bothering to wait for action taken.

The UPA Cabinet is a bit of a joke really. Many of the ministers are Rajya Sbaha MP’s having little or no contact with the people, except the few they meet on occasion. The pressure of the constituency that is important, indeed imperative, for accountability is not felt by these ministers who live in the comfort zone of Lutyens Delhi where there is never a shortage of power or water, where the roads are nice and wide, and where the security convoys ensure them free passage through the normally traffic locked capital. Many of them are holding charge of more than one ministry, and in the process doing justice to neither.

It does seem that the Congress has shrunk dramatically in the past few years. The dearth of talent is visible in the quality of this government. And the dearth of men and women to occupy ministerial posts is visible in the reluctance of the Congress president to expand her tiny group of men and women into a more representative Council of Ministers. Maybe as some say it is a lack of trust and confidence in the Congress leaders outside the current group of ministers, but the decision makers have shrunk into a virtual coterie. The general secretaries of the party too seem to have been disempowered, with just the spokespersons being shuffled around, more for television appearances than any sound policy information, from time to time.

The Congress only gets excited when it comes to getting numbers in Parliament when there is usually a flurry of activity, house calls and telephone calls, as somehow the array of leaders and votes to defeat a censure motion, or get through a Bill is a major victory for a party that lapses into inaction soon after. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh does not travel in India if he can help it. He likes going abroad, and from all accounts would like to sign off with a visit to Pakistan that has been on hold for eight years now. Visits to the little towns and districts, or to states facing huge problems such as Assam, are not for him. Mrs Sonia Gandhi has also given up travelling within India, with a visit to Rae Bareilly being touted as a major adventure by her party managers. She travels abroad but mostly for personal reasons that are kept a closely guarded secret. Travel as every politician knows is important as it keeps the connectivity between party/government and the people, establishes direct contact, educates the leader about the masses he or she represents, and brings to governance a certain humility and sensitivity. This is essential to guard against destructive arrogance, and prevent inept ministers from giving themselves clean chits and ‘excellent’ ratings for a job not done.

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