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The prime minister must shuffle his ministers by merit. There really is no alternative
The imminent reshuffle in the council of ministers is the UPA's last chance to demonstrate its ability to govern responsively. That signal will be sent by the prime minister and the UPA chairperson by the organising principle on which ministers are appointed or moved around. Will it be just an expansion to plug vacancies and enforce a one-person-one-post rule in a council that has lost members on account of scandal and political spats? Or could new portfolios be decided by a considered appraisal of the right person for the portfolio? The latter should necessarily be the way of it with a democratically elected government. But in eight years of UPA rule, it is difficult to recall a minister who has been promoted for work well done or even for the promise of it. Instead, a durbari system has prevailed, with the Congress's Rajya Sabha club of self-styled loyalists using their ministries to play politics, with no thought of responding to the people's aspirations or to the government's policy announcements, while Congress allies run their allotted ministries as sovereign territories. The limits of this system have now been reached, and the prime minister's choice must be clear: rectify it double-quick or call an early election.
Sorting out incumbents on the strength of their performance — the record or expectation of it — is the best practice in any organisation. But applied to a council of ministers, it is an essential procedure by which the elected make themselves accountable to the people. For democratically run governments, accountability cannot be a five-yearly test at the elections. It is an ethos to which a government must adhere by managing its own along lines of answerability between itself and the people.
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