With the Narendra Modi government close to completing a year in office on May 16 (or May 26, depending on whether one looks at the election date or the swearing-in date), this is a good time to evaluate various ministries on a scale of 0 to 100.
It is difficult to conceive of anyone worse than Arun Jaitley!
The man appears to be utterly clueless in his job, and unwilling to invest the time to become even marginally competent. He has allowed the IT department to issue notices for back-taxes to foreign companies, thus jeopardising future investments.
Haggling over a few billions in a two-trillion dollar economy makes no sense.
He has even allowed "tax terrorism" to invade the homes of salaried taxpayers. Though he claims that the new IT forms are going to be re-examined, the fact that they werem issued in the first place is a testimony to his gross incompetence.
He seems to lack an eye for detail or an awareness of the big picture.
So long as he is in the news (for the right or the wrong reasons), he appears to be happy.
It is difficult to know what made Modi pick Jaitley in the first place, other than personal loyalty.
As wags put it in the blogosphere, Jaitley doesn't know "F" about Finance!
There are of course plenty of conspiracy theories floating around, to the effect that Jaitley "wants" the economy to tank, so that the NDA will fare poorly in the 2019 election, wherein he fancies his own chances of emerging as a consensus candidate for prime ministership.
Certainly his hobnobbing with known Modi-haters such as Rajdeep Sardesai and Barka Dutt lends credence to this theory.
Also, he has made it amply clear to one and all that he has given an "abhaya hastam" to P Chidambaram and son, and to NDTV.
But as Napoleon said: "Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence."
And Jaitley has more than enough incompetence to go around.
Parliamentary Affairs: 20%
When the NDA got 334 seats in the Lok Sabha, the real significance was that it had a majority in the combined houses, in case it became necessary to those extra seats gave the NDA a comfortable majority in a combined sitting to pass legislation.
It should be obvious to anyone that the opposition parties would not let a single meaningful piece of legislation pass in the Rajya Sabha.
So a competent minister of parliamentary affairs would have had a strategy in place for getting bills passed, either by co-opting opposition parties other than the Congress on a case-by-case basis, or to steer bills towards a joint sitting.
But this has not happened.
The only reason why I do not give a zero is that, through some miracle, five bills got passed in the last legislative session, including the coal bill, and the insurance bill.
But for the land acquisition bill, the lack of a strategy is very apparent.
The government has permitted the press and the opposition to set the agenda and tone of the public discourse.
For whatever reason, the BJP keeps sending its spokespersons to TV debates where they are out-numbered, having to face not only four or five panelists but also a biased anchor.
They would do better to avoid these debates all together.
On the land acquisition bill, the government has done nothing to counter the spin that the bill is anti-farmer.
As various commentators have pointed out, the average land holding in India is about one acre --- far too small to be viable.
If the experience in and around Hyderabad is any indication, most farmers are only too happy to sell their land.
There are imaginative solutions to this problem, such as giving the farmers some share-holdings in the companies doing the acquisition.
But clearly the government has not applied its mind on strategies to put across its viewpoints.
Manohar Parrikar has done some good things, such as converting the purchase of fighter planes from France into a government-to-government transaction.
This eliminates the scope for kickbacks.
On the other hand, he has reneged on the "one-rank-one-pension" scheme, and has fired Avinash Chander as DG of DRDO without having any back-up plan in place.
Human Resource Development: 60%
Almost from day no. 1, it has been a fashion to pick on Smriti Irani.
I don't understand why.
Early into her tenure, she scrapped the teaching of German and replaced it with Sanskrit.
The only criticism I would make is that she should have waited until the end of the school year before making any changes.
But as has been shown subsequently, it was the introduction of German that was irregular, not its replacement by Sanskrit.
Her scrapping of the four-year undergraduate science degree in Delhi University had the support of an overwhelming fraction of the students and the teachers, and yet the media made it out as though she was riding roughshod over DU, even though the programme did not have the sanction of the UGC.
The recent hatchet job on her in Outlook, consisting of nothing but unattributed quotes, shows that some persons in the media are certainly out to get her.
I genuinely enjoyed her interview with Times Now's Arnab Goswami, where the poor journalist had nothing to fall back on, besides the same gossipy reports.
Education in our country has been messed up by successive Congress governments, none more so than the most "toxic" HRD Minister of all, Arjun Singh, who introduced the "right to education" bill, and made it inapplicable to "minority" institutions.
So one cannot expect a turnaround very quickly. But by and large I feel that the negative publicity being heaped on her is unjustified.
The passage of the coal bill might be to the credit of the parliamentary affairs minister, but the implementation of the coal auction was transparent and seamless.
It also generated far more money than anyone dreamt of.
So kudos to Piyush Goyal.
External Affairs: 100% There is no gainsaying the fact that the image of India in the world at large has gone way up ever since this government took over.
When the UPA-II was in power, everyone knew that Manmohan Singh couldn't even go to the toilet without asking Sonia Gandhi's permission, so no one was particularly interested in a visit by him.
On the other hand, Modi has emerged as a giant killer.
Aside from his state visits, the efficiency shown by the Indian rescue operations in Iraq and Yemen has drawn a lot of positive notice.
The story of a Yemeni woman married to an Indian national, who kept sending twitter messages to Sushma Swaraj and was getting steady responses is well-known.
Our relief efforts in Nepal have also been excellent.
One has only to compare our efforts in a neighbouring country under the present government with the helplessness of the previous government during the Uttarakhand floods, when relief convoys had to be held up for Rahul Gandhi to return from one his innumerable and unexplained holidays abroad.
Thus, overall, the government is not doing badly "except" in handling the economy. Of course, that is a "huge" lacuna in its performance, and it needs to be fixed soon.
I thought that perhaps Jayant Sinha was being groomed to become a minister and put in charge of the finance ministry.
But now, thanks to the outburst by Arun Shourie, that has been ruled out.
So let us think about Shourie's comments and guess his motivations.
Arun Shourie wanted heavyweight ministry
It is an open secret that Shourie wanted heavyweight ministry, preferably finance.
He didn't get it, for whatever reason.
Perhaps he has decided that he is never going to get anything from this government, and has decided to "let it all hang out" so to speak.
The interview to Karan Thapar was his method of getting revenge.
Had he contented himself with criticizing Jaitley's performance, he would have had plenty of company.
However, by making ridiculous statements about the "church attacks" and the BJP getting only 31% of the popular vote, he has lost all credibility with me.
By now all of those so-called "attacks" on churches have been established to be either simple acts of vandalism without any communal angle, or to have been perpetrated by members of another minority.
By repeating that utterly discredited story line, Shourie has shown that he just wants to hurt the government in any way possible.
Similarly, his comment that the BJP got only 31% of the vote is monumentally stupid.
As a former journalist, he should know that the BJP got more than 40% of the vote in those constituencies where it contested, and the NDA as a whole got 38.5% of the vote.
It is highly perverse logic to say that when people voted for the BJP's pre-polll alliance partners, they weren't voting for the BJP!
Various commentators in the Internet have said that Shourie is not 100% right, nor 100% wrong.
As a truism, that statement is fine.
My own view is that his motives are definitely suspect, because of his choice of topics, and also his choice of venue - talking to Karan Thapar, a known Modi-baiter.
The way things were going, it was perhaps conceivable that in a year or so, the pressure on Modi to dump Jaitley would have become unbearable, and that Shourie might have stood a chance.
But now he has burnt his bridges completely.