She, the ship of governance, floats on the high seas, sails fluttering but with no skipper to negotiate the waves. Never in the history of Goa as an independent state, have we been in such a tumultuous and extremely fluid administrative state when a duly elected government is fully in place.
The power and the power centre lies – quite literally and very unfortunately on a hospital bed in New York – perhaps taking critical calls on governance through a work matrix on his tablet, giving clearances for cabinet meeting requests and for all projects, including a final approval of projects costing as low as Rs 1 crore.
There is literally, quite literally, not a single finance file which can be finally cleared without his last mile connectivity. And it is the last mile control maintained by an ailing Chief Minister that signals a few thoughts about the current nature of governance.
By design or force of habit or by the sheer compulsions of circumstances emanating in Goa for the past year, Manohar Parrikar has maintained water tight control over three areas – home, finance and infrastructure. At the same time he has marshalled a key area of government which is always under the radar, but controls the functioning of various departments, personnel. What goes unnoticed is that the Chief Minister through this department directly controls the choice of appointments at key levels. Which is why, it is hardly surprising that no minister in this government – including the three ministers in the Cabinet Advisory Committee – has any weight or control over not just the senior bureaucracy but even in the middle or junior rungs.
All power flows through the Chief Minister. He has handpicked people in key corporations like GSIDC as well as in the departments. And here are some senior bureaucrats who enjoy such level of confidence that their notings are almost always accepted and concurred with by the Chief Minster. Principal Secretary to CM, P Krishnamurthy, and Joint Secretary Finance, Michael d Souza, are two officers whose chain of command flows directly from the Chief Minister, so much so that even senior ministers route their requests or queries to them through the Chief Minister. And in his absence these two particularly, along with some of his hand-picked ones ensure that the CM’s control on the government doesn’t pause.
However, the time has indeed come to ask, if the system which is so entrenched and Chief Minister centric can work ad infinitum in the continued absence of the Chief Minster. One of Goa’s senior most ministers candidly confessed, “Ministers may have power to take decisions but the final decision rests with him (CM). So there’s really no point in having any other structure, if files of Rs 1 crore have to go to him for final sanction.”
We are just about halfway into the arrangement and there are signs that this may have to be extended. And this is a good time to introspect if a purely medically related unexpected turn of events concerning the Chief Minister gets prolonged, then can the current arrangement hold.
At no point of time has the opposition or even the allies even remotely flinched publicly about the fluid situation regarding the time that would be taken to get a semblance of an idea on the Chief Minister’s return to active work. They are privately concerned, not because they have other plans, but because they want this coalition to work. And an ailing Chief Minister can be expected to get absolute support from the allies and interestingly from the opposition which has graciously sought not to create any political disturbance during this time.
For the Chief Minister, nothing should matter more than his health and his treatment, for the sake of himself and the State. Which is why a call should be taken by him, or he should be told to continue in the position but leave full-fledged charge and allow an interim Chief Minster or an officiating Chief Minister to carry out all the functions of the Chief Minister in his absence, with he having the over-riding authority to intervene on any major decision making, as the Chief Minister ‘in office’.
It has happened in the past, that government functioning has required Chief Ministers travelling abroad to appoint a senior minister in charge, even for a brief period. Digambar Kamat, one recalls had once asked Ravi Naik to officiate and Mr Pratapsingh Rane used to ask Dr Willy D’Souza, who has toppled his government more than once, to hold charge in his absence.
Here too, the charge may be given to a senior most party member or even an ally because, this is essentially one government and the charge is not handed over to a party but a colleague in the cabinet.
This is necessitated because the State needs someone to be visibly in charge. A lot of work of governance is dovetailed into the role of leadership, especially in a crisis. And this role is beyond that of files and decisions. This is a role where the people of the State should have the confidence that there is the full authority of the Chief Minster in the man in charge so that decisions that can’t wait can be taken.
We are in the middle of a turbulent phase due to the mining shutdown. On Monday, March 19, a massive agitation of the mining affected truck and barge owners and others are going to converge on Panjim, blocking most access roads into the capital. The water channels are expected to be blocked too, by barges. The government needs to take a critical call on how to handle this build up, without severely affecting the sentiments of those who are peacefully gathering. One wrong move or statement could throw the agitation out of control. Restraint with firmness will be vital. It is in these times that a political leadership, with the powers of the Chief Minister, Home Minister and Mines Minister is needed. The fact is that Mr Parrikar is in charge all of these ministeries with no other minister holding interim charge, and the Cabinet Advisory Committee doesn’t have the necessary teeth to act if a crisis erupts on Monday.
Even on the issue of moving the Supreme Court to cure its order of February 7 on the cessation of all mining leases there is discrepancy between the Advocate General’s opinion that State should not go back to the Apex court, and the final decision which the CAC took, which was the exact opposite of what the AG recommended. It is in these times that a ‘Chief Ministerial’ presence is needed.
It is time for the BJP leadership in the State and Centre as well as the allies to pick an officiating Chief Minister in-charge of all of Mr Parrikar’s portfolios, instead of letting them run totally by the bureaucracy.
Delegation is an art that very successful leaders and managers learn. In politics and in governance the art works even better to strengthen the person who delegates rather than weaken him.