Reshuffling a Battered Deck of Cards

Will Take More Than Just a Reshuffle



THE very recent Cabinet Reshuffle in J&K has been compared to the famous Congress ‘Kamraj Plan’ of 1963 which saw six Union Ministers and an equal number of Chief Ministers resign from their positions to devote their time to re-strengthen and re-vitalize the Indian National Congress post Jawaharlal Nehru. Here in J&K, after exactly 50 years – in a last-year-of-term reshuffle aimed to save the ruling dispensation from electoral loss in 2014,  a number of National Conference ministers have been absolved of their Ministerial posts to work towards saving the party. The step reminds me of the British Cabinet Reshuffle of 2006 that came after one of the worst local elections results in the history of the Labour Party led by Tony Blair at that time. Labour party came third in the overall share of the vote in local elections in England, losing control of 18 local authorities. The Tories were the biggest winners, gaining 316 extra councillors and 40% of the vote. The only difference in our case here in J&K is that the evasive, desperate measure comes before the doomsday. 
The Cabinet Reshuffle in J&K has predictably triggered disaffection and hostility in the ranks of both parties. Before the Cabinet Reshuffle, on Monday, Sankarshan Thakur (Delhi based Roving Editor of The Telegraph), in his piece – “Omar’s Revamp Gamble Over Valley of Anxious Drifts” made an astute observation by saying that “an outcome populary presaged”  was that “the Omar Abdullah Government had made itself so unpopular, no amount of cosmetics will put a new image on it”.
The reshuffle comes in the last year of the State Government’s term before the Assembly Elections of 2014. Some MLAs have been given a ministerial opportunity after decades of humiliating invisibility. While other MLAs – including the young NC MLA from Batamaloo, Srinagar have yet again been kept aspiring for induction. The Congress Party has little political derivatives to seek from the reshuffle, given the fact that almost all its senior stalwarts in the Cabinet have retained their berths albeit with different allocations. The National Conference however has, perhaps forecasting imminent doom in 2014, used the Cabinet Reshuffle to push in structural changes in the party hierarchy.
While the Cabinet Reshuffle might be an opportunity for the Chief Minister to consolidate his personal sway over the party, effectively sidelining his father Dr. Farooq Abdullah and his Uncle, Sheikh Nazir Ahmed – the reshuffle offers little hope for the people of J&K. After the 2006 reshuffle in England, Conservative Leader and now British PM, made a famous, piercing remark. Cameron, when asked about his reactions to the reshuffle, told media-men that “It will take far more than a reshuffle. What we need in this country is a replacement.” Transposing Cameron’s observation to the ground-reality in Jammu & Kashmir wouldn’t be far-fetched. Struggling with a rapidly declining economy, progressively increasing debt and deficit and an exploding, endemic unemployment – the State Government finds itself buried under the weight of numerous broken electoral promises. Last week, this hopeless, indicting situation made the Chief Minister make an irresponsible, fiscally disastrous promise of 80,000 new government jobs in a State that spends 246% of its revenue to pay its Salary and Wage Bill.
The State Government has miserably failed to attract economic attention and investment into the State, leaving the nascent local private sector unaided and suffocated for capital and infrastructure. The Government has shamelessly chosen to leave the Panchayats disempowered and dysfunctional. While the Omar Abdullah government was prompt in announcing and conducting the MLC elections for the Panchayat Representatives Quota, he has failed to hold the much awaited Block Development Council (BDC) elections – seen by many a threat to the elitist and monopolistic, traditional political mainstream in Jammu & Kashmir. J&K’s Health Sector continues to be in shambles. This Government witnessed the harrowing situation at the G B Pant Children’s Hospital which tragically highlighted the criminal negligence of the State Government in some of the most basic and critical areas of governance – including health, education and public infrastructure.
The Cabinet Reshuffle has seen the capital of Srinagar lose one of its only two ministerial representations. This comes in light of the reality that both NC and PDP have failed to consolidate and make inroads in the eight constituencies of Srinagar.
Given the competition that is emerging in North Kashmir, the reshuffle has seen additions from Kupwara, seeing last-minute ministerial representations as the last straw to grab. In a speech to the workers of the party yesterday, the Chief Minister said that there was nothing wrong in Ministers favoring NC workers. That perhaps is the most candid and simple summarization of the reshuffle logic. The Chief Minister wants newly inducted ministers to hand out undue favors in return for votes in constituencies where the party is lagging behind. So, it’s official – workers and supporters of the ruling dispensation are first-class citizens and their needs (due and undue) come first. Those of everyone else are officially secondary.
So, taking from David Cameron – the State of Jammu & Kashmir doesn’t need a reshuffle. What it needs is a replacement. And from the look of things – the desperation in making promises and going for cosmetic measures – in giving late representation to areas of erosion – it looks like the replacement is en route.

(Junaid Azim Mattu is the Srinagar Head of J&K Peoples’ Conference. Views are personal).

Lastupdate on : Fri, 18 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 18 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 19 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST

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