Monday, June 1, 2009

Kerala places high hopes on its six ministers in Delhi

Gulf Today

THERE is euphoria in Kerala following the induction of two cabinet ministers and four ministers of state in the new Central government.

The state certainly has reason to celebrate. Never before did it receive such large representation at the Centre. What's more, those who have found places in the council of ministers are men with considerable political and administrative experience.

The two cabinet ministers, AK Antony (Defence) and Vayalar Ravi (Overseas Indian Affairs), held the same portfolios in the first Manmohan Singh government too. As they are Rajya Sabha members, they did not contest the Lok Sabha elections.

The four ministers of state have been drawn from among the 16 elected to the Lok Sabha -- three on the Congress ticket and one on that of the Indian Union Muslim League, a major constituent of the United Democratic Front (UDF).

UDF supporters celebrated their assumption of office by distributing sweets and bursting crackers. Setting aside political reservations, Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan hoped the large contingent from the state would be able to put an end to complaints of Central neglect.

E. Ahamed, who is national president of the Muslim League, was minister of state for external affairs in the previous government. Now he is in the railway ministry.

Mullapally Ramachandran (Home Affairs), KV Thomas (Agriculture) and Shashi Tharoor (External Affairs) are the other ministers of state.

Ramachandran, who was minister of state for agriculture in PV Narasimha Rao's ministry, returns to the union government after a gap of 13 years. Thomas is a former state minister of tourism and fisheries.

Shashi Tharoor has entered the Lok Sabha with no experience in domestic politics, but his international experience as a United Nations official is sure to stand him in good stead in the discharge of his duties.

The new ministers have to contend with the high expectations that have arisen in the state as a result of the large representation it has received at the Centre.
One question they encountered repeatedly during the campaign was what they would do for the constituency or for the state if elected to the Lok Sabha. Under relentless questioning they had promised to pursue issues of concern to their constituents.

Shashi Tharoor, for instance, committed himself to work for early realisation of Thiruvananthapuram citizens' desire to have a high court bench in the capital and a deep-water port at Vizhinjam.

Talking to the media after taking over as minister, Tharoor said he would wait to be briefed before he made any new commitments. However, he added he would like to concentrate on the Gulf region because a large number of Malayalees work there.

When the late ABA Ghani Khan Choudhury was minister for railways, it was said all railroads led to Malda in West Bengal, which was his constituency. As minister of state in the first Manmohan Singh government, R. Velu of the Pattali Makkaal Katchi enlarged the Salem railway division in Tamil Nadu at the expense of the Palakkad division.

With Ahamed in the railway ministry, the people of Kerala are hoping their demand for increased travel facilities will be met. Within hours of assumption of office he talked to Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee and arranged special trains to clear the summer rush to the state.

Work on railway overbridges in the state has been behind schedule because of delay in land acquisition. Ahamed has said he will call an early meeting of officials to sort out the problem. He has also offered to give priority to extension of rail facilities in the hilly Wayanad district and to the ongoing track doubling programme.

Thomas's charge includes food and public distribution, besides agriculture. The last government had drastically cut rice allocation to the state.
Apparently the poor takeoff from ration shops and the sharp variance between the central and state estimates of the below-poverty-line population had influenced the decision.

Thomas has said he will take all possible steps to restore the rice quota. So strong is the pressure on the ministers to live up to their constituents' expectations that they have to be on guard against being reduced to the level of small-town politicians whose interests do not extend beyond the immediate vicinity.

Although national parties have the upper hand in the state, for all practical purposes Kerala has been a political backyard so far.

The elevation of a number of MPs to a higher platform provides it with an opportunity to become part of the national mainstream.

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