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Manmohan constitutes key Cabinet committees

By Harish Khare

NEW DELHI, JUNE 10. The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has constituted two crucial sub-committees of the Cabinet — the committee on security and another committee on political Affairs — to initiate and oversee crucial decision-making, signalling that the new Government is ready to get down to the business of governance. Both committees will be headed by the Prime Minister himself. The two committees, along with the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (already announced a few days earlier) become the hub of hands-on decision-making on a day-to-day basis.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) will include: the Defence Minister (Pranab Mukherjee), the Home Minister (Shivraj Patil), the Finance Minister (P.Chidambaram), and the External Affairs Minister (Natwar Singh). Besides, the National Security Adviser, J.N. Dixit, will be an ex-officio member. The Army Chief often aids the CCS as do the chiefs of various intelligence agencies, as per the nature of urgency. During the Vajpayee Government, K.C. Pant, in his capacity as Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, was also a member of the CCS.

The other crucial panel, Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA), will include the following cabinet members: Mr. Mukherjee (Defence), Arjun Singh (Human Resource Development), Sharad Pawar (Agriculture and Food), Laloo Prasad Yadav (Railways), Mr. Patil (Home), Mr. Chidambaram (Finance), Mr. Natwar Singh (External Affairs) and Dayanidhi Maran (Communications and IT).

The Cabinet Secretary is Secretary to both the committees.

During the National Democratic Alliance Government, the CCS acquired a somewhat omnibus character and it was often called to deal with questions, which were strictly political. And the composition of the CCS during the Vajpayee era reflected the political equations within the BJP and the NDA. Intra-party ego clashes within the BJP ensured that Murli Manohar Joshi was kept out of this key committee; similarly, Mr. Joshi's efforts to have his portfolio changed (so that he became qualified to be a member of the CCS) were rebuffed.

Dr. Manmohan Singh has revived the Narashima Rao regime arrangement of having a Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs, which would take critical political decisions. The CCPA became a crucial forum during Mr. Rao's time because he chose not to put in place its organisational counterpart, the Parliamentary Board in the Congress. During the Indira Gandhi and the Rajiv Gandhi prime ministerial innings, the Parliamentary Board was the principal forum of political decision-making. Dr. Manmohan Singh has, however, put together a political affairs committee that correctly reflects the spread of the coalition government's political strength. Unlike the CCS that has only Congress Ministers, the CCPA has representatives of the three important political allies — the DMK, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Nationalist Congress Party. To that extent, the CCPA will be the "executive" panel of the government, representing the best collective political wisdom available to the Prime Minister.

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