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Wednesday, Aug 10, 2022
Outlook.com
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Opinion

Playing It Safe

The reshuffle has the hotch-potch stamp of Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi. The most surprising element being the elevation of Mr Salman Khurshid as the minister for external affairs.

Playing It Safe
Playing It Safe
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

I would like to make the following points regarding the cabinet reshuffle carried out by the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on October 28, 2012.

The widespread expectations by many, including me, that the reshuffle would have the stamp of Mr Rahul Gandhi have been belied. The reshuffle has the hotch-potch stamp of Dr Manmohan Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi. It is a play-it-safe reshuffle to carry on the governance without any major political problems till the 2014 elections to the Lok Sabha.

Not only Dr Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi, but even Mr Rahul Gandhi and his young aides have chosen to play it safe lest Mr Rahul Gandhi fall flat on his face as he did after the elections to the  UP State Assembly earlier this year. Once bitten twice shy. That has been the attitude of  Rahul. He is still politically diffident and does not want to project himself in the forefront till the political situation turns in his favour. Public perception is still not  in his favour.

The most surprising element in the reshuffle is the elevation of Mr Salman Khurshid as the minister for external affairs. Mr Khurshid is a gifted individual and minister who had done well in whatever responsibility was entrusted to him in the past, but he had recently got involved in an embarrassing controversy due to allegations of misuse of funds sanctioned for the welfare of physically disadvantaged people by a Trust with which he and his wife are associated. He and his wife handled  the allegations in a press conference in a shockingly petulant and insensitive manner.

His behaviour definitely created considerable embarrassment for the government and a negative percepton of him even among those well disposed to him. One would have, therefore, felt that Dr Singh and Mrs Gandhi would have played it safe by not giving him a prominent portfolio. Their action in giving him the prized portfolio of External Affairs can be explained only from the point of view of a convergence of the interest of both Dr Singh and Mrs Gandhi in having him in that portfolio.

Since he became the Prime Minister in 2004, Dr Singh has been playing an activist role in foreign policy matters whether it be in respect of closer strategic partnership with the US or a thaw in the relations with Pakistan despite the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai or co-operative relationship with China despite the continuing border dispute.

He chose Mr S.M. Krishna as the EAM because of the confidence that Mr Krishna would let him play that activist role without any friction and that the two would be on the same wavelength on important foreign policy issues. Mr Krishna totally went along with Dr Singh in all these matters. Dr Singh has similar confidence in Mr Khurshid.

In the case of Mrs Sonia  Gandhi, it is not so much her confidence in his foreign policy expertise as her gratitude to him for standing by her in public as the Law Minister in the controversy relating to the allegations of wrong-doing made against Mr Robert Vadra, her son-in-law,   by India Against Corruption (IAC) led by Mr Arvind Kejriwal that has played a role for her backing to his elevation. It must be remembered that on the day the IOC publicly made the allegations against Mr Vadra there was total panic in the Congress Party and in the entourage of Mrs Gandhi.

Mr Khurshid stood in the forefront of the ministers who openly defended Mr Vadra. It would not be wrong to say that his fierce defence of Mr Vadra and his open proclamation of his loyalty to Mrs Gandhi added to the venom of the IOC against him. Mrs  Gandhi has thus reasons to be grateful to Mr  Khurshid for diverting the fire away from her and Mr Vadra. These two factors have definitely played an important role in his elevation in total disregard of the public perception against him.

Will this Cabinet, which is expected to fight the coming elections to the Loh Sabha, be able to avert a defeat in the elections? I will not be surprised if it does. The BJP has been thinking that the allegations of corruption against the Congress alone will bring it down. The history of our elections since 1950 show that allegations of corruption, however serious, are not crucial in determining the outcome. Despite the Bofors controversy, the Congress led by Rajiv Gandhi did not do that badly in the 1989 polls even though it failed to secure a majority. The Congress was back in power within two years. All the allegations of corruption and Emergency excesses made against Mrs Indira Gandhi could not prevent her return to power with a huge majority in 1980.

Relentless demonization of political opponents has played a crucial role only in the elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly. Otherwise, the impact of a demonization campaign is generally marginal as we have been seeing repeatedly in Gujarat and in the elections to the Lok Sabha. If the BJP wants to profit from the existing mood against the Congress, it has to project before the people an alternative policy framework. Instead of doing so, it seems to be thinking that it can rout the Congress by harping on the issue of corruption and by demonising the Sonia Gandhi family. It may not work.


B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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