Telangana CM finds 'auspicious time' to expand cabinet after two-month wait

After a two-month wait, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) has finally found the right muhurat to constitute his cabinet.

The state government will have a full-fledged council of ministers in place on Tuesday, on the auspicious day of magha shuddha pournami. The swearing-in event will start at 11.30 am, the Chief Minister’s Office informed the media on Friday. According to some news reports, KCR is expected to induct at least 10 members into his cabinet.

Without ministers, activities in various departments remained muted with little or no file movement in the past two months since KCR took the oath of office for a second consecutive term as chief minister on December 13. Corridors wore a deserted look at the state secretariat, which usually received a lot of visitors when ministers were around. 

The Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) had attracted national attention by winning a second term in the state in December with a much larger majority in the 117-member assembly — 88 seats as against 61 in the 2014 elections. Despite this political achievement, its leadership came in for criticism for not having a full-fledged Cabinet for weeks after forming the government, without a clear reason. 

Mohammad Mahmood Ali was the only MLA to take oath alongside KCR. Ali has been made home minister apparently in order to reinforce KCR’s Muslim-friendly image. 

People and party hopefuls expected that KCR would constitute a full-fledged Cabinet soon after taking the oath, but this did not happen even as their silent wait continued for weeks.

While the party maintained silence on why the chief minister was taking so long to fill ministerial berths, TRS Working President K T Rama Rao’s (KTR’s) tweet about his interview in The Times of India encouraged some people to question the delay for the first time.

In that interview, KTR had criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi of centralising all powers in the government. KTR tagged his interview to one of his tweets in the hope of a wider readership but those who quickly responded asked the former minister to explain as to why there was no full Cabinet in the government headed by his father in Telangana.

KTR did not enter into a debate. However, the Twitter episode caught the media attention and was quickly followed by news articles that said a Cabinet expansion was on the cards and KCR was examining the names of probables. Meanwhile, a PIL (public interest litigation) petition was filed in the high court against the absence of ministers. 

Finally, the much-awaited cabinet expansion was in sight as the government needed ministers to run the official business, beginning with the impending budget session of the Assembly — convened for just four days from February 22 to present a vote-on-account Budget for 2019-20.

In the absence of ministers, reviews and decisions on important matters kept happening at the chief minister’s camp office (KCR never visits his office in the state secretariat) on a daily basis and that gave a sense of business as usual to the public at large.  

With cash transfers and delivery of the other government services mostly happening through online systems in the state, people at the receiving end did not find much of a difference or feel the need to visit the minister or a district collector, observers said. Now stories have started floating around as to how the government was able to save ~5 crore per month by not having ministers.
In fact, the role of ministers in government had started diminishing in undivided Andhra Pradesh back in the 1990s when secretaries of various departments were encouraged to visit the CMO and brief Chandrababu Naidu, who was chief minister of the undivided state then, directly on certain matters, bypassing their ministers.

When Y S Rajasekhara Reddy became chief minister, key ministries like mining and home were kept with political lightweights or close confidants, who were often viewed as mere rubber stamps. His trusted lieutenant and friend K V P Ramachandra Rao used to run the business in the government.

Things are much more different in a regional party set-up today. High command or the first family is ever more powerful since all those leaders who used to wield control over district politics and find their way into the Cabinet or other important posts on their own terms have either gone extinct or shrunk to the level of a constituency leader in both the Telugu-speaking states. Their political survival largely depends on the mercy of their leader.

As the outcome of the recent elections endorsed the one-man show in Telangana, anything and everything has to wait on the priorities of this leader.

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