Political trifling

The cabinet reshuffle is an odd combination of brazenness and caution

This moment of profound political transition is marked by three challenges. First, the party that signals it can be rid of its ancien regime the quickest will stand a better chance of succeeding. Parties that continue to be implicated in the old corrupt, presumptuous and arbitrary order will struggle. Second, the nature of governance is also shifting. To project effectiveness, a government has to perform across several fronts simultaneously: macro economy, education, infrastructure, power, rural development environment and so forth. The weight of governance and growth cannot be borne by a handful of individuals. But many of these ministries require drastic internal revamping, close attention to daily processes and the creation of systems that can deliver on a routine basis. None of these tasks is flashy. And they cannot be done in a hurry. Third, parties are struggling to articulate a broad and exciting political narrative. Is there a larger story they have to tell, which can animate the voters? Can they articulate the zeitgeist?

The cabinet reshuffle and Congress party restructuring need to be seen in this context. It is very hard to make the case that the reshuffle signals the junking of old debris. Instead, it is an odd combination of caution, brazenness and political trifling. There is caution in the sense that there are no bold departures that promise a new beginning. There are new faces but no image makeover. Ajay Maken's promotion, independent charge for Pilot and Scindia in ministries that will require good judgement signal a step forward. But the pace of these promotions is still glacial. It is hard to shake off the feeling that young leaders cannot be given responsibility in a way that there is a risk of them overshadowing Rahul Gandhi. The culture of the Congress party is such that until the moment Rahul decides to genuinely lead, it will be hard for anyone else to stake out an independent track record of achievement.

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