It’s smaller, isn’t it? - Hussain H Zaidi - Monday, February 21, 2011

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“I don’t know whether Mr Brown himself lived up to his criterion. Probably he didn’t, otherwise he would have fared better at the polls. But if in our case the government of all the talents was the criterion, why have the ministers with the most serious of corruption charges against them and the most tainted of reputations been retained? In any event, the key portfolios remain unchanged – the Foreign Office, of course, is an obvious exception for obvious reasons.”

“The weakness of your argument is self-evident. For one thing, mere allegations don’t constitute evidence and media trial is no substitute for judicial trial. ‘Innocent until proved guilty’ is a basic principle underlying our legal system, as it is of all other civilised nations. Is there any order, decree or injunction by any court or tribunal convicting any of the incumbent ministers of corruption or abuse of power? In a word, the fact that stories of alleged corruption or incompetence by a ruling party parliamentarian abound is no ground for denying him or her the ministerial slot that he/she otherwise well deserves. Of course, where such stories have some substance, the leadership does act. Don’t you remember some time back one minister got the sack and now quite a few prominent members of the outgoing cabinet have been booted out for not measuring up to the expectations of the top leadership?”

“This is precisely what I’m driving at. If there’s an objective criterion for inclusion in or exclusion from the cabinet, the criterion has to be applied fairly and squarely, without bias or prejudice. All Maliks and Makhdooms, Rajas and Rajputs need to be treated even-handedly.”

“It’s not for every Tom, Dick and Harry to advise the powers that be what to do and what not to do. They know well how, when and whom to apply a given criterion. If they need some advice, they’ll ask for it. The problem with people like you – the detractors of the popularly elected government – is that you wanted to see an altogether new cabinet just for the fun of it, which was neither possible nor desirable. Instead of finding faults with the new cabinet for one reason or another, why don’t you appreciate that it’s much smaller than the one preceding it? Hasn’t the government satisfied that long-standing demand?”

“If the government has done so, it has merely made a virtue out of necessity. In the wake of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, several ministries are being devolved on the provinces so that the federal government’s pie of the cake will shrink. Besides, it’s only the beginning of the formation of the new cabinet. Subsequently, the body will be enlarged to accommodate the ruling party’s allies, and even some of its disgruntled members. So, in the end, you’ll have another large cabinet comprising a fleet of ministers, deputy ministers and advisors with all their substantial perks and privileges, salaries and allowances, staff and security.”

“Well, much to its credit, the ruling party religiously believes that the fruits of democracy should be enjoyed by all political forces of note, so that no one has any cause for upsetting the applecart. Therefore, going by that logic, if anyone, anywhere, anytime needs to be inducted in the cabinet, fiscal discipline or good governance shouldn’t constitute an obstacle. That said, given the scarcity of the slots, fierce competition would continue for making it to the cabinet and some of the brilliant faces may end up by being on the losing side. I already feel sorry for two of the most illustrious scions of the soil, who were again left out.”

“Who are they?”

“Can’t you see for yourself? One is the maverick spokesperson of the ruling party and the other is an MNA from Karachi. Both the lady and the gentleman are widely known and respected for their sagacity and manners.”

“I know who you are alluding to. Yes, I was also taken by surprise at their not making it to the lucky lot. I trust the leadership will see reason and luck will smile on them in the days to come.”

“Yes, I also do so. However, one decision compensated for their exclusion.”

“What was that?”

“You are too naïve. It’s the appointment of the new spin doctor of the government – the courageous, fearless, dauntless lady, who is never short of words in calling a spade a spade.”

“You are right. I’m too naïve to get at the obvious.”

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email: hussainhzaidi@gmail. com

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