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Instead of complaining about not getting work from seniors, ministers of state must move out of chambers to interact with public for ideas of better governance
Posted On Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 01:49:15 AM
Their complaint was reminiscent of a remark of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the cabinet of John Major, who succeeded the redoubtable Margaret Thatcher as the Prime Minister, “We are in office, but not in power.”
Politics after all is a harsh unrestrained game for power. The complaining bunch of ministers of state points to an elementary lesson in management. Organisational charts represent the formal distribution of office and responsibilities in an organisation.
However, it is not the formal organisation that matters. In every organisation, there is also an informal organisation based on the network of relationships, office gossip, and differences in personalities. When it comes to action, the informal organisation matters.
Pratap Singh Kairon as Chief Minister of Punjab was one of the famous politicians wielding and radiating raw political power soon after Independence. The joke those days was, “Mantri to ek hain, Sardar Pratap Singh Kairon, baaki sab santri hain.” (There is only one Minister, Sardar Pratap Singh Kairon, the rest are all sentries.)
It appears that one of his cabinet ministers went to Kairon and complained that he had no power. Kairon’s reply to that, “Do you not know that power is never given, it is taken?”
So, what can our current set of Ministers of State do? In the eternal tug of war between formal and real power, one can wield real power only by becoming effective and developing worthwhile skills. Henry Kissinger observed that in government, real power gravitates to those who assume responsibility, take initiative and act boldly.
The reality in Indian politics is that today, power is determined by the balance of power between the national and regional parties. In this era of coalition politics, regional parties — most of them with one leader and his family outfits — punch much above their weight.
Anyone can become a powerful cabinet minister irrespective of age or experience. A look at the UPA government and you see the DMK and PMK got what are perceived to be lucrative ministries.
Also, greenhorn MPs even from the Rajya Sabha were made cabinet ministers. However, when it comes to large national parties such as the Congress, there are far too many aspirants and issues of seniority and other considerations that prevail.
Theoretically, a competent political leader in such parties goes through a career path from Deputy Minister through Minister of State to Cabinet Minister. Unfortunately, in politics, there is no guarantee of promotion as in the civil services.
However, a politician can always imaginatively exploit every situation. One option is to follow what the legendary civil servant M G Pimputkar, ICS did on being shifted overnight.
He was holding the powerful post of the establishment officer controlling the career and destiny of organised civil services and was transferred to becoming the director of Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration.
Pimputkar had a great reputation as a disciplinarian. He was not ruffled. He said, “The government is trying to get rid of one Pimputkar, I will train dozens of Pimputkars every year.” Apparently, he did too.
After all, the ministers of state are political leaders and they can use their imagination to improve their skills and influence.
They can vigorously move out of their chambers and start by gauging the impact of their actions on the public. They can act as the eyes and ears of the department and see what can be done to redress the grievances of the public. This in turn would let them to come up with original ideas for better governance.
Even if the department is non-cooperative, they can use other forums to project their perceptions and make their contribution. If that happens, the ministers of state will not have to plead with the Prime Minister for work.
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