Shuffle’s end

The cabinet is also reconfigured. So what is UPA2's next excuse for indecision and drift?i>

It could be argued that Sunday's reshuffle came three and a half years too late. If this was the ministry the prime minister and UPA chairperson desired, the nation has lost precious time while the Congress dithered. Irresolution, in fact, has become the way of the party and the government it leads at the Centre. It shows in the number of ideas it throws up and leaves hanging, unable or unwilling to bring them closure. Such has been the predicament of the National Counter Terrorism Centre, feverishly talked up early this year and abandoned at the first sign of resistance from the states. More recently, the proposed National Investment Board, which promises to tackle the tangled web of permissions and clearances required for a project, appears headed in the same direction — or the lack of it. The long delayed reshuffle — in the offing ever since the exit of two DMK ministers and constantly put off for reasons ranging from the Uttar Pradesh elections and then the presidential polls to the more recent "inauspicious" period of shraddha — has framed the same waffling that has held up governance. The most notable achievement of the reshuffle may be, therefore, that it has taken place. And that the Manmohan Singh government has lost its last excuse to stand still.

The reshuffle itself may not be able to satisfy all the demands of a particularly fraught moment. The government needed to change the subject from corruption and the recent reform-minded decisions had to be underscored and rounded off at a time when two state elections, including Gujarat, loom round the corner. Sunday's exercise doesn't measure up entirely — it signals that the government is no longer holding its breath as it waits for Rahul, but it doesn't quite tell a persuasive or coherent story of change. But the day after, the government must look ahead at the year and a half it has left and plan for it, instead of drifting and waiting for the next crisis. Too much remains in orbit. The dots need to be connected on FDI in retail, the work of rationalising the diesel subsidies is still largely undone, the significant rewrite of the ways of doing business promised by the companies bill must be taken to its conclusion, and the reforms agenda in the higher education sector plucked back from the legislative no-man's-land in which it has been left to flounder.

In the past, the government could blame it on the party and did so too. After the Sunday overhaul, however, it is on its own, without alibis. It must deliver or pay the price for endless drift.

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