Two CMs rule from hospital bed in US
News analysis

Two CMs rule from hospital bed in US

K. Gopalakrishnan

Two chief ministers, one belonging to CPIM and another from the BJP, have one problem. Both do not trust their ministerial colleagues fully, or they are not fit enough to run the administration even for a short period in the absence of the chief minister. So much so, even while undergoing treatment in the United States, they could not give charge to a senior minister to run the administration. Perhaps the two cannot be blamed. If there is no one in the cabinet who enjoys the total trust of the chief minister or is capable of running the affairs of the state how they can give the charge? After all running a state is an onerous responsibility, even for a short period.

Therefore the two have chosen to burden themselves with the running of the state from the hospital bed in another country! Even when they are expected to take bed rest, the two have preferred to exert themselves and run their respective state. Yes, Kerala chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan (73) and Goa chief minister, Manohar Parrikar, (62) had no other option but to continue performing the duties even while under treatment thousands of kilometers away from their states in the western coast of India. However, many in Kerala and Goa feel that there are capable men in their cabinets but the two veterans did not want to part with power.

Parrikar evolved the system when he went to US for treatment of pancreatic ailment in March 2018. He constituted a three member committee, Cabinet Advisory Committee (CAC), to help run the administration. Francis D’Souza, Sudhin Dhavalikar and the Goa Forward Party (GFP) were the members of the committee. But the committee was delegated financial powers for projects up to Rs 5 Cr. Parrikar did not give acting charge of his five portfolios – home, finance, vigilance, personnel and general administration to any of his cabinet ministers.

Parrikar managed to rule Goa through senior bureaucrats while undergoing treatment initially. He constituted the CAC to showcase collective leadership and keep the alliance partners happy. He knew that the position of the ministry is not all that comfortable. BJP had won only 13 seats and could form the government with the support of three MGP and GFP legislators and backed by two independents. Many felt that the government was in slow mode. Important decisions like off-shore casinos, river nationalization, mining and formulating a regional plan were all kept in abeyance. However, with Parikkar resuming charge in the state secretariat on June 15, critics were silenced.

But the issue is back as Parrikar had to go to US for treatment again in the last week of August due to some complications and the CM office has indicated that he will not handover charge of the administration to any of his cabinet colleagues. There is dissatisfaction brewing in the BJP on Parrikar not handing over charge to a cabinet colleague and even BJP chief Amit Shah has discussed the matter with state leaders. Goa Congress chief, Girish Chodankar has demanded that the state should have a full time chief minister failing which the Governor should withdraw his pleasure in the Council of Ministers and dismiss the state government. Meanwhile Parrikar is continuing to rule from the hospital bed in US.

In Kerala also a similar situation has arisen with chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, going to US for treatment at the Mayo Clinic in the first week of September without handing over the charge to any of his cabinet colleagues. Incidentally he was originally scheduled to go to US in the third week of August but due to floods he postponed his visit. However, only after the situation improved in the state he left for US for treatment.

But leaving the state without nominating anyone to hold charge, at a time when the relief and rehabilitation operations need a strong and effective leader, has lead to a major controversy. Vijayan has nominated his confidante, E.P. Jayarajan to receive contributions to chief minister’s distress relief fund. But not given the charge to any minister, though there were reports that Jayarajan was authorised to preside over cabinet meetings.

The task of rebuilding a new Kerala, finalization of a financial package with the World Bank, discussions with the Centre for financial assistance, relief and rehabilitation work, all need united team work. There are sharp differences within the cabinet and two ministers PWD Minister G. Sudhakaran and Agriculture Minister Sunil Kumar openly criticized Finance Minister Dr. Thomas Isaac over relief operations in Alleppey. At least three ministers vehemently protested against the decision to not conduct the Youth Festival, sports meets and film awards, a decision taken by the CM before his departure about which only E.P. Jayarajan knew. The situation was deftly handled by Jayarajan who worked out a compromise to hold all such functions without fanfare and festivities.

One also saw a senior bureaucrat openly criticizing the agriculture minister concentrating on revival of agricultural operations in Kuttanad and not concentrating on tourism which did surprise many. Who frames the policy, many wondered. A senior bureaucrat expressing his differences openly made some ministers unhappy and CPI ministers angry.

The cases of sexual harassment of a DYFI leader by Shoranur MLA P.K. Sasi and the alleged rape of a nun by Jalandhar Bishop Franco Mulakkal were typical examples of how cases should not be dealt with. There was an explosion of public anger and adverse media criticism. Both cases have developed into national level scandals bringing a bad name not just to the Kerala government but the state as a whole. If Opposition leader, Ramesh Chennithala is to be believed there was no cabinet meeting and governance was adversely affected in the absence of a leader authorized to coordinate and supervise the administrative matters. Pinarayi remote controlling the administration from a hospital bed has not been successful.

Be it Kerala or Goa administration, both require a leader. Lying in a hospital bed, coordination cannot be effective. Nor can a person undergoing treatment thousands of kilometres away from the state be effective in spot decisions. Law and order require constant watch. Policy level decisions need open discussions, private consultations and inputs from various sources. In any case, the heavens will not fall if a senior minister is given the charge till the treatment is over for both Pinarayi and Parrikar. The minister given the charge of the chief minister can always consult the leader whenever needed. It is difficult to believe that there is no one in Kerala and Goa cabinet who can temporarily take charge of the CM’s responsibilities.

Above all, a leader should learn to trust his colleagues. A good leader should not feel threatened by his colleagues. One may be away for some time. But to keep away from the chief minister’s office for a long period would not be advisable. Many decisions cannot wait. Even with modern communication systems on the spot presence is vital.

However in the case of Pinarayi and Parrikar there is no need for any threat perception. Both are strong leaders and have no rivals at present. In the case of Parrikar the alliance partners are supporting him personally and not the BJP. Central leadership of the BJP cannot touch him as he is privy to the process of decision making of the Rafale deal. Pinarayi too is an unchallenged leader and the central leadership can do precious little against him. The two can return after treatment and resume their official position.

Whatever is the reason or justification it is not in the best interests of the two states to have a remote control administration and decision making from a hospital bed in America. At least in future the chief minister should have at least one person who can take charge during his/her absence. Or the ruling party or alliance should insist on having a deputy chief minister, which will ensure smooth functioning during the absence of the chief minister. Nobody is indispensable.