‘Professionalizing the political class’ or ‘scholars as ministers’ aren’t great ideas.
Clichés are horrible. They are like those viral infections in zombie movies. Or a good opinion you hold about yourselves. You know it isn’t true and that it isn’t good for you to hold it to be true but curiously you hold on to it nevertheless.
The political realm, too, is full of clichés. The “power of Democracy” is the biggest them of all. The “power of youth” is the next one. This one got so bad that the ancient wisdom about being young and stupid is almost forgotten these days. I’m not saying democracy and youthfulness are bad but hey, it’s not like they are unsurpassed virtues on their own regardless of ‘environmental factors’.
The latest cliché in circulation is that we need professionals and/or scholars to lead ministries.
Smriti Irani is the latest victim of this uncontested assumption. Apparently, being an ex-actress and a non-graduate makes her eminently unsuitable for the job of leading Human Resources Development Ministry.
First, it is not known why the HRD Ministry alone has been designated as the holy cow. There are dozen odd ministries I can count which ostensibly need more ‘complex understanding of issues involved’ to be run well. Atomic energy, space and finance come to my mind – which of these are led by ‘professionals’?
Second, leading a ministry is a political operation not a ‘professional one’. The professionals will ‘run’ the ministry but you’ve got to have a politician leading it. The number of politicians who’ve demonstrated a good grasp of issues and solutions in a domain within overall political limitations is greater than technocrats who have managed not to mess things up when given a leadership role.
Being a minister requires an entirely different set of skills than being a professional. How better can I warn you than citing the examples of UPA’s Manmohan Singh and Nandan Nilekani – the greatest professionals India had to offer in their domains?