FactBehindFiction: Cabinet’s shadow
Jun 27 2014
If the last 30 days are anything to go by, BJP is proving less adept at governance than UPA
As four-time chief minister of Gujarat, he has no doubt, experience in governance at the state level. But one gets a feeling that unlike the Congress, which has been in power for more than five decades since independence, the Modi government has not taken to governance at the Centre as fish takes to water.
One may not agree with Congress but it is defter in tackling administrative issues from day one in office. That sort of feeling is not there at the moment despite the fact the new prime minister has so far not tripped even once. Talking to some bureaucrats, one gets the feeling that the Modi government is yet to get a grip on difficult issues and in the last one month nothing much has happened excepting cleaning up the corridors, toilets and dusting files in various ministries. Bureaucrats also feel that work is tension-ridden with meetings going late into the night.
Delaying a decision on gas pricing is one example. Several appointments have not happened, including that of deputy chairman of planning commission. Modi says the presentations made by various ministries have helped his government come up with excellent roadmaps but no one knows as yet what those roadmaps are and when they would be implemented.
The problem during the UPA-ll government was that of policy paralysis because bureaucrats were not taking decisions for the fear of facing inquiries in various scams. Now bureaucrats are sitting tight because they are not getting any clear directions from the government, just as yet.
It is easy to criticise the government when in opposition but when in power, a party has to know what and how to do things. That’s why it becomes imperative that principal opposition parties form a shadow cabinet so that they take to governance as and when they get the opportunity, just like in Britain.
The shadow cabinet is a feature of the Westminster system of government. India broadly follows the British system of parliamentary democracy but somehow the system of shadow cabinet has not come into being, though some state governments like Maharashtra and Haryana have experimented with it at different times.
With a two-party system gradually emerging at the Centre, it is time someone thought about it. Shadow cabinet comprises a senior group of opposition spokespersons, who, under the Leader of Opposition form an alternative cabinet to the government and whose members shadow or mark each individual member of the cabinet.
Members of a shadow cabinet are usually appointed to a cabinet post when their party gets into government. It not only has the responsibility to criticise the policies and actions of the government, but also offer an alternative programme. In India the role of opposition has so far been only to criticise the government and disrupt parliament functioning.
If only BJP as principal opposition had a shadow cabinet during the last 10 years of UPA rule, it would have been in a much better position today to govern.
Apart from Britain, shadow cabinets are in vogue in Australia, Canada, New Zealand. This system makes transition smooth and ensures continuity, particularly in dealing with difficult economic issues like inflation that hits hard the common man most. There are fears of a monsoon failure, which means more worries on the price front.
The recent spurt in sugar prices is one example. A government official admitted the situation was handled well but they were entrapped by the machinations of sugar mill owners. He also felt that former agriculture minister and NCP strongman Sharad Pawar with his vast administrative experience handled sugar price decontrol so well that sugar prices were always kept under check.
The UPA government may be accused of rampant corruption but their administrative capability is far superior. To keep their administrative skills sharp, Congress should now form a shadow cabinet so that they keep abreast and in fine fettle when they come back to power. It is not necessary all shadow cabinet members have to members of Parliament.
In his tweet, Modi said there have been some instances in the last one month, which his government had nothing to do with; yet controversies have persisted. This, he said, called for strengthening systems whereby the right things are communicated to the right people at the right time. He also expressed the hope that things will change. This is a very loaded statement. Whether in opposition or in power, right things are communicated to the people so that unnecessary exaggerations or twists to score political points do not happen, as in did in the case of 2G or coal scam.
Modi said the previous UPA government had the luxury of extending the honeymoon period up to 100 days and even beyond. Though he did not enjoy this luxury, he promised to keep working with the sole aim of serving the nation determinately. He also pledged to safeguard values and create strong institutions trough good governance.
As Modi believes in strengthening institutions to promote good governance, his government should agree to give Leader of Opposition status to the Congress so that they in turn explore formation of a shadow cabinet. By this way, rival parties share their experience to move towards good governance in national interest.
BJP is certainly not averse to the idea of a shadow cabinet. Its senior leader and now health minister Harsh Vardhan as leader of opposition in the Delhi assembly had mooted the idea of forming a shadow cabinet in the Delhi government last year. He had then claimed that BJP is at the forefront of progressive changes and will improve governance in Delhi through positive opposition. Today Delhi under central rule faces erratic power and water supply during this difficult summer. Hopefully political parties come together in national interest to tackle the issues of common man.