It is now a week since our new Chief Minister Siddaramaiah was sworn in. A week later we have a cabinet, some dissidence in his party, the portfolios distributed after much discussions and delay and many senior disgruntled legislators. It looks as though only seniority and age are prerequisites to be a minister. I am sure somebody somewhere will also realize that being young, inexperienced, enthusiastic and with enough understanding of policy and governance are also good enough qualifications to become a minister.
That said, we need to also appreciate what has happened in the last one week. There were promises galore from the CM even before he settled down in his office. The CM who had promised good governance and transparency, did not find the need to be democratic and wait for his cabinet to be formed before deciding on the doles. In a Westminster system of parliamentary democracy, the CM is only the first amongst equals in his cabinet and should not start playing ‘king’, however tempting it may be. Announcing policy decisions amounting to nearly 4500 crore rupees without a full understanding of the financial situation is indeed a dangerous precedence – that one had hoped this CM would avoid. His announcement that rice would be available for 1 rupee a kilo and that each BPL family would get a minimum of 30 kg per month would be welcome in the interest of food security. But what the state truly needs is to rationalize the identification of the poor (however politically uncomfortable it is), make sure that all the poor families are actually included in the BPL list and the undeserving rich are removed, bring in universal PDS, and include local food crops like ragi and jowar in the PDS.
While this sounds like a wish list for many like me, what the CM needs is courage, conviction and the willingness to take on established forces which have developed a stake in the status-quo. With his vast administrative and political experience, one only hopes that his own party and ministerial colleagues see the political advantage in delivering on good governance. Public memory is short and it will not be too long before the political executive loses the message of the recent elections and slips back to ‘business as usual’ mode. We need an empowered citizenry to keep the heat on and remind our ‘rulers’ that we are not only watching but will respond to both good and bad governance in the parliamentary elections due next year.