New government : Action more important than words

The new government formed under the Prime Ministership of Prachanda on August 18, 2008, has been partially expanded on August 22 with the inclusion of eight ministers, four from his own party, and four from the third coalition partner, the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum. Regretfully, at the last moment, the ministers nominated by the CPN-UML could not take

their oath due to controversy over the trivial issue of seniority in the cabinet. Generally, it is PM’s prerogative to decide the superiority of the ministers.

Moreover, the second minister should invariably be from the same party which leads the coalition, as being second in command, he can preside over the cabinet meetings in the absence of PM. It is a general norm prevalent in democratic countries. It is being followed in India too, as presently, the second minister Pranab Mukherjee is from the party leading the coalition.

The logic, put forward by the CPN-UML in this respect, is faulty as it took the precedent of Girija Prasad Koirala’s cabinet. Koirala, however, while forming his cabinet failed to base his claim on the basis of the tradition followed in many countries with regard to the second man. Ironically, he made the positions occupied by particular leaders in past governments the sole basis for the second top job.

Unfortunately, the same logic has been forwarded by the CPN-UML.

In the prime ministerial form of government, the government is known by the name of its prime minister and his performance (or the lack of it) is judged by his actions. As per coalition dharma, the CPN-Moist should have kept Home Ministry as the law and order situation in the country has become the first and foremost task before the government; coalition partners should have cooperated with the government by not asking for the Home portfolio.

The three parties have signed four main documents, i.e., 31-point Common Minimum Programme (CMP), the 19-point Code of Conduct (CoC) for the ministers, the 13-point Modus Operandi of the Government (MOG) and Political Coordination Committee (PCC) on August 21. These commitments were necessitated as previous experiences of political partisanship have been bitter. The then PM was helpless in reining in his ministers as he was unable to remove a dissenting minister, nor was he in a position to accept resignations of ministers for months at a time.

Surprisingly, the ministers availed of all facilities even without having to attend their offices. Perhaps, the PM could not visit his office in the central secretariat during his tenure due to his poor health. Neither was the PM assertive enough to steer the cabinet nor did coalition

partners allow him to play an effective role in the government.

Many have appreciated the new PM’s visit to Sunsari to see for himself the plight of the flood victims. Had he stayed there for a day more, the victims could have felt more consolation and would have been comforted by his presence. It can be argued that a long stay of the PM might have diverted the attention of the administration from its challenging duty of supervising the relief operation. Others feel that it would have been better had the PM stayed in the capital for a day or two so that he could have geared up the central administrative machinery to be fully involved in relief operations and could have taken up the matter with UML for early inclusion of its minister.

Since there has been no legitimate government for the last few months, the prime minister’s first priority would have been to provide a full-fledged cabinet to the nation. Ignoring all these, the new PM has gone to attend the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, choosing it as an opportune time to fulfil his commitment to visit China. To some, either he could not check his temptation of enjoying the ceremony or he could not withstand the political pressure from China.

Politically, had he gone there after the Olympics, the message could have been different (about his choosing to go to China before visiting India). It would have been a true departure from tradition.

Others say the lame pretext of Olympic Games for visiting China could have been avoided by visiting China after giving final shape to his government, attending some cabinet meetings, giving guidelines to his new colleagues and streamlining relief operations in Sunsari. No doubt, his senior ministers could have done these jobs, but if done personally, it could have added a new feather to his cap.

Before leaving for Beijing, Prachanda rightly addressed the nation in an informal attire, thereby showing his revolutionary credentials. In his address, he touched upon all the relevant points incorporated in the CMP and tried to assure all security institutions of fair treatment, also calling upon political parties to forge a consensus for framing the constitution. All the best wishes for the new government.

Prof Mishra is ex-election commissioner