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North Block's havenot - The Indian Express

The Editorial ()
March 19, 1998

Title: North Block's havenot
Author: The Editorial
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: March 19, 1998

A fine opportunity is at hand for the new government to correct a
dangerous and foolish subversion perpetrated by successive
governments. This refers to the systematic emaciation of the once
all-powerful Ministry of Home Affairs which, in better days,
boasted a Sardar Patel at its helm. That was a long time ago.
During Indira Gandhi's tenure, North Block fell upon ill days as
her obsessive need to corner power saw its progressive sidelining
and divestment. A concomitant was the installation of a series of
non entities who were moreover put in a position where they had
no choice but to spar with and intrigue against their own junior

Proposing a strong and rejuvenated home ministry may seem like a
dangerously centralising idea at a time when unitarianism is
passe. It is no such thing. The issue is a sensible allocation of
functions within the central government. The home ministry's
enfeeblement has empowered only an unaccountable bureaucracy and
junior ministers at the expense of senior ones. A vicious circle
has followed of feeble ministry getting feeble leaders who
perpetuate the ministry's marginalisation. Who can forget the
infamous running battles between Rajesh Pilot and S.B. Chavan
where the former, as minister of state for internal security,
routinely went over his boss's head to the prime minister? The
more recent outbursts of Indrajit Gupta against his Home
Secretary are legion. Both ministers in fact had good reason to
complain. What is the home ministry without charge of internal
security, direct oversight of Kashmir, control of the CBI, and
supervision of the Intelligence Bureau which, in the absence of
direct ministerial control, has become a law unto itself ? Yet
every one of these has been successively taken out from under
North Block's umbrella. The inevitable result has been the
aggrandisement of the bureaucratic cabinet secretariat and junior
ministers gleefully giving senior colleagues a bloody nose. AB of
which leaves North Block a mere posting shop for the central
paramilitary forces.

The time is opportune for change. Regional tin derboxes, with the
notable exception of the northeast, are more stable than at any
recent time, and a changeover can be attempted without
jeopardising security. In the BJP, the country will have a
government which is focused on a strong administration and
security. For no other party is the home portfolio quite as
crucial. The very first step has to be for the right man to get
the job. That the man is the message is only too clear from the
anxiousness with which the Finance portfolio has been watched.
Lal Krishna Advani is the current favourite to bag the job at
Home. Prime facie, he is a wise choice. Far and away the most
important minister and party leader aside from the prime minister
himself, his presence in North Block would signal the importance
of this portfolio, and the ministry will hopefully recoup its
lost powers. Partly as a result of Home's eclipse, partly of
Congress's deliberate promotion in Finance of unthreatening
politicians such as Pranab Mukherji and Manmohan Singh, and
partly because of the vastly increased focus on the economy,
Finance has lately stolen the limelight. That is fine. What is
needed is a tough and empowered home ministry in a country whose
fragility and tenuous integrity are daily emphasised.

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