Despite a massive victory in the recent elections owing to the Assembly being dissolved eight months before the end of its term, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is strangely delaying the constitution of the full cabinet. He was sworn in as Chief Minister with only one cabinet minister, while there can be 18 members in his cabinet, including the CM.
The TRS was voted to power with 88 seats. Two more MLAs shifted loyalties to the party, taking the partyâ€™s strength in the Assembly to 90. In the Legislative Council, the Congress Legislature party was merged with the TRS after the defection of four MLCs, thus consolidating the ruling party's strength in both houses of the state legislature. KCR is an unquestioned leader, and the people gave him a positive mandate. There will not be any internal squabbles in the selection of ministers. The exercise is constitutionally the prerogative of the Chief Minister. Politically too, it is the privilege of regional satrap like KCR, unlike in the case of national parties.
Reports indicate that KCR, known for his superstitious beliefs, is waiting for an auspicious moment for the full cabinet to be formed. Time and again, KCR has defended his beliefs and said that others have nothing to lose because of it, and it is true as long as such beliefs do not intervene with his responsibilities in public life. If the reports of the Chief Minister's personal beliefs coming in the way of the formation of a cabinet are true, it is certainly a worrying sign. There are also allegations that KCR has not operated from the state Secretariat due to such superstitious beliefs.
Meanwhile, in a recent press conference, KCR said that the formation of the full cabinet is delayed as he is contemplating consolidating certain departments and ministries. For instance, the Agriculture Department, Agricultural Marketing department and Agricultural Cooperation department work for the welfare of farmers, but have so far been separate. The Chief Minister said that he has ordered the top bureaucracy to work out the modalities for merging such related departments as part of governance reforms. No one can object to such a move, as it entails better coordination in administration. In fact, the 12th Five-Year Plan approach paper, in its chapter on governance, called for such a measure. Though the planning process was abandoned, the central government is also consolidating related ministries as part of its principle of minimum government and maximum governance. In fact, several centrally sponsored schemes have been integrated.
In his first term, KCR also initiated such a process. Several education departments like primary, secondary, technical, adult etc., were brought under the single Ministry of Education. Now, he intends to do this with other ministries as well. But, the moot point is that such an exercise should have been put in place when he was the head of the previous government. The cabinetâ€™s expansion need not be delayed for this exercise to be completed. Governance reform is an ongoing and continuous process, and the formation of a full cabinet cannot be held hostage to the completion of such reforms.
However, sources say that there are political reasons for such an unusual delay. The TRS is trying to attract MLAs from the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party, and a few defectors may also have to be offered ministerial berths for crossing over.
In 2014, the TRS won only 63 seats out of 119 in the state Assembly. Immediately after this wafer-thin margin victory, KCR personally presided over Operation Aakarsh to lure opposition MLAs. Both the Congress and TDP suffered a slew of defections which bolstered the ruling party, evident from the recent victory. KCR even called it a process of political realignment to develop the newly formed state, saying that the opposition was trying to destabilise his government as it enjoyed only small margin before legislators from the opposition joined the party.
This time, Operation Aakarsh is aimed at weakening the opposition further and politically consolidating weaker areas. In the recent election, the TRS has gained an invincible lead in nine of ten erstwhile districts, prior to their reorganisation. The Congress-led Peopleâ€™s Front managed to get a lead in Khammam. Thus, KCR is keen on inducting opposition MLAs from Khammam in order to gain an upper hand in the Lok Sabha segments of Khammam and Mahabubabad, where the opposition gained a lead.
Thus, KCR is expected to give ministerial positions to defectors from such strategically important districts.
The Chief Minister is expected to appoint a full cabinet only after Lok Sabha elections, so that he can reward those who delivered their victory in the polls. Whatever may be the reason and interpretation, the fact remains that such a delay would only cost governance, as the country has a cabinet form of government, rather than a chief ministerial form of democracy.
Views expressed are the author's own.
Professor K Nageshwar is a senior journalist and former Member of Legislative Council from Telangana.