The currently popular pastime in India is picking a cabinet - rather wishing a cabinet - to lead various important functions of the Government for next five years. Like everyone else in the country, I did play this too. My wishes are on the basis of assumed competence and knowledge. Alas, the cabinet in India is usually not picked on that basis - the legislature and the executive are closely linked in India, and besides, some allies are keen on extracting a pound of flesh. Besides, I would not know all the ministerial positions and all the MPs, so this is indeed an useless exercise. But then, I am sure I am entitled to play this game, like everyone else.
My choices here:
The Prime Minister: Dr. Manmohan Singh. He has proved himself to be an able administrator, a man of principles, and a competent leader.
Deputy Prime Minister: Needs to bring back the position. Pranab Mukherjee. Played this role for most of the time anyway. Manmohan Singh needs a political man to cover him sometime and Mr. Mukherjee's political savvy is incomparable.
Finance : Can we get Montek Singh please? He is Monmohan's protege, a high profile reform minded man. He has the confidence of the Prime Minister and the international community. The portfolio assumes extra importance in the middle of a global recession, and the need for a Liberalization 2.0 in India.
Education: Not a pork-barrel portfolio in India, so usually given out to lesser men. But I guess it is time to bring it back in the agenda and get someone to move it. Someone with fresh eyes, and the urge to make a difference. Do we have a better choice than Rahul Gandhi here? And, also, can we rename the Ministry back to Education - Human Resources is so last century and so mechanical! Well, if one does not like Human Resources, we can call it the Ministry of Talent Development - how about that?
Foreign Affairs: Salman Khurshid is a senior politician, suave man and has the necessary experience. With a resurgent UP Congress, his fortunes may finally turn. It will be good to see him as our Foreign Minister.
Overseas Indian Affairs: Shashi Tharoor. He understands the issues and can reach out to the Overseas Indians everywhere. He enjoys a high level of respect from foreign ministries world over, which will be an asset.
Home: We sure need a man who is decisive and fair. P Chidambaram may not like the portfolio, but he seemed to be doing well here. He should stay. I am sure he will also opt in once he realizes that there is no place for him in Finance.
Railways: There is talk about Mamta Banerjee, and possibly she will get it. But, I think her hands are full trying to get to the CM's seat in West Bengal and she does not like Delhi anyway. I also think that we have very good candidates elsewhere. If it has to go to TC, then why not give it Sudip Bandopadhyay, who is an old hand in politics. But then my personal pick will actually be Jairam Ramesh, who has fresh ideas and can try out changing the public sector behemoth.
Commerce & Industry: Kamal Nath is becoming a permanent feature, but he has some unfinished task. Let him stay. However, it is time for him to get an assistant, who could be a possible successor. Shall we say Sachin Pilot?
Information Technology: Here is my favourite. Can we keep Dayanidhi Maran please? He was doing very well before he got entangled in the family feud.
Law: Something seriously needs to change here. If there was one place where the last government failed, it is in Legal Affairs. Can we get someone competent? Would Kapil Sibal be ready to take this on?
Water Resources: I am thinking of a joint responsibility between H D Kumaraswamy and M K Azhagiri. Then they can sort it out between themselves. But this is serious staff, and we must sort this out. Let's try Mr. Pawar, who would want a ministry for himself and that certainly should not be Sports.
Sports: I am sure M S Gill is competent, but it is a long time since he played anything. Can we get someone more interested and a reformer. Would this be too 'light' for Mr. Scindhia? But this is a glamour ministry, and he can make a real difference by staging a great Commonwealth Games, getting Olympics to India in 2020 and by shutting down IPL and restoring the game his father loved.
Information: If we can't get Jairam Ramesh in Railways, can we get him here? He is media-savvy as we all know, and this administration has to make decisions about globalizing Indian media, about allowing greater foreign ownership in Indian media businesses and scaling down the censorship levels that still exists. We need a reformer, someone who understands that in this world of social media, government control is useless and counter-productive. Someone with a vision and understanding of 21st century. Mr. Ramesh may not be a Gandhi family favourite, but he possesses all these attributes.
Rural Development: Let's give Mamta her favourite portfolio. That is, just in case CPIM recovers in time for 2011, she needs a job to do. On a more serious note, she will actually do well to understand the issues involved. I am not sure she does now.
Urban Development: Again, an area of big challenge in the next 5 to 10 years. Indian cities are crumbling. We need urgent infrastructure upgrade, serious investment and even new cities. My choice will be a man like Sandeep Dixit, assuming that he can talk to his mother more often and learn from the wonderful job she is doing from close quarters.
Minority Affairs: Assuming that Salman Khurshid has now qualified himself for a major job rather than the minor roles he is used to, we can try Farooq Abdullah here. Like Mamta, this will be an internship though, and hopefully, Dr. Abdullah will learn something about muslims in India in the end.
Agriculture: The other option to Mr. Pawar is Mr. Deve Gowda. Let's call this the Minister who could be PM, but will never be. But you need someone who has to do the dirty job of explaining to rich farmers why their subsidies will be taken away. This man better be a political heavyweight.
Health: Shall we say that who we do not want? Mr. Ramadoss. Not another five years of ego trips please, when people are dying. I would think the government needs to push forward with the plans to make Health Care universal, in NHS fashion, and this will need some vision and drive. How about people like Milind Deora [whose father will probably remain the Petroleum Minister]?
Power: There will be a revolution in the power industry and we need a man with vision and understanding. Naveen Jindal will be my pick.
Others who should stay: I think Praful Patel in Civil Aviation and Murli Deora in Petroleum have done a good job and should stay on.
I know who I have left out. Lalu Prasad and Arjun Singh to start with. However, I was making an wish list here, not who I see in my nightmare. Besides, the nightmare is never far away - PC in Finance, Shivraj Patil at Home, Pawar in Sports - these are all real possibilities. However, for the moment, I am optimistic - about better sense prevailing and about India in the coming years.
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