The incumbent political dispensation is as top-heavy as it is inefficient. The size of the political figures holding ministerial and advisory positions is clearly out of sync with the avowed intention of the PM to keep it trim and fit yet the head of government feels no compunction in presiding over a treasury bench with eighty-two members. The current treasury bench is four times the size of the 21-member cabinet announced on 20 August, 2018, and will likely grow even more as PTI allies continue demanding more ministries from the government.
By the looks of things, PTI government has become immune to the criticism about the size of the incumbents and looks set to increase the size of the treasury bench as soon as a political expediency arises. Despite the size of the official membership at the top, the PM has time-and-again hinted about his dissatisfaction with their performance and has recently dispatched ‘red’ warnings to the majority of cabinet office-holders. There remains an increasing chance of a major reshuffle in the cabinet and suggestions are that a few important ministers will be reassigned or removed on the basis of performance reports demanded by the prime minister.
The ascendancy of political forces in a democratic dispensation considerably leans on the Prime Minister who is the fulcrum around which the entire governmental activity revolves. His cabinet assists him in running the government. One of the primary responsibilities of the PM is to defend performance of his cabinet colleagues who are otherwise exposed to formal and informal criticism. In parliamentary democracies the performance evaluation of the party in power is powerfully conducted by parliamentary opposition and discontented members of the back benches of the ruling party. Parliaments the world over such as in the UK have equipped their Committee systems to parallel respective government departments and committees rigorously investigate performance of the government. Moreover, other governmental and non-governmental agencies keep an eye on working of cabinets with press being quite vituperate and very vigilant.
In the parliamentary democracy, the Cabinet is a collegial body representing the collective responsibility of a government and it is extension of the parliament in the executive. Considering its consensual, collective and representative nature, it is falsely considered handmaiden of the Leader of the House who is supposed to command it unequivocally and it serves at his pleasure. Theoretically he enjoys complete autonomy in hiring and firing his cabinet members but cannot exercise his powers whimsically as he has to ascertain the individual importance of every member of his cabinet.
As the sole appointing authority he is mandated to evaluate their performance exclusively by keeping all cards close to his chest but again he has to evaluate keeping in view the relative political weight of his cabinet members. Apparently the notion of the unbridled authority of the PM with respect to his cabinet builds up an aura around the Prime Minister that he jealously guards to retain his grip on the government.
The principle of control exercised by PM on his cabinet and the exclusivity of his powers to monitor their performance is now hotly debated in parliamentary systems of governance. It is no more an individual luxury any elected prime minister can be given to enjoy in its entirety. The response of Prime Ministers emphasising the exclusivity of their privilege does not wash anymore and is open to serious queries.
By far the cabinet has not displayed any signs of political sagacity as is borne out by its lackluster performance that has been widely berated in the country. The current political instability is also the result of the dismal performance of the cabinet and only blaming the prime minister cannot hide the incompetence shown by the cabinet. The situation has come to such a pass that a reappraisal of cabinet performance is more than due before it exits the scene prior to national elections scheduled to be held in summer.
A collective evaluation of cabinet will turn candid, creating bad blood because self preservation entails shifting the blame equally towards elected and non-elected elements but that is the only way to get rid of bad blood. The cabinet ministers may abhor enunciation of their failures openly and may consider them a serious personal slight with the negative prospects of it becoming a stumbling block in their future political careers but cabinet performance must become the only benchmark of their political lives.
The performance evaluation of the cabinet may be undertaken by the prime minister in cabinet meetings in which ministers may present individual assessments of their years in office and they may be subjected to questioning by their cabinet colleagues. This is precisely the moment for reappraisal of their performance as their parliamentary tenure is nearing completion. The reappraisal of performance has assumed dire importance for the simple reason that throughout the last five years it has not paid even lip service to both the houses of parliament. TW