Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sonia-Manmohan axis wobbles

Apologists for prime minister Manmohan Singh, their number though small is significant, had once argued that there was a perfect divison of labour between Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. She manages the political situation, and he runs the government. It did work in the first term of UPA in office from 2004 to 2009.

It has not been working since 2009 because UPA2 is faced with an avalanche of scandals and scams in the government, involving the ministries of telecom, finance and law, and the cabinet itself. The 2G spectrum allocation issue is just getting bigger and sucking many more people into it. The Commonwealth Games financial misspend again falls to the government's lot. The issue of black money again is a government subject. Prime minister is the head of the government and the buck stops with him.

Singh is overwhelmed and nothing he says or does seems to be right. The apologists want to shift the blame on the Sonia-Manmohan arrangement. Singh's former media advisor Sanjaya Baru now says that Singh does not have the political authority because of the arrangement, and goes on to argue that the prime minister is not only the leader of the government but of the ruling party and of the country.

The implication is clear. The dyarchy is not working. Singh should have the political along with the administrative power to do what is right. He should not be shackled by coalition compulsions and political exigencies of the party. He is an honest man and he should be allowed to do the honest thing. The blame then is squarely shifted on to the party, and indirectly on to the Nehru-Gandhi dominated power structure of the Congress.

The argument does not sound right both in the moral and rational senses of the term. Singh cannot ever hope to have political authority because he never made an attempt to earn it. He was given power by P.V.Narasimha Rao in 1991 and by Sonia Gandhi in 2004, but it was Rao who bore the political responsibility and the brunt in 1996 because Rao was the prime minister as well as the party president. He took the blow from both sides.

As head of the government, Singh is now left to face the music on his own on what happens in the government. All that has gone wrong in the last two years is about governance. There is not much that Gandhi can do to help him. She and the party are defending the government. They cannot do more than that.

The argument that Singh does not have the political elbow room in the government is true but it cannot serve as an alibi for the prime minister. It can certainly be argued that he is in an uneviable position, but it is something that he has accepted with open eyes. He knew what he was getting into, and contrary to the view of his admirers, he is not pretending to be innocent about the treacherous waters of politics. When he came into politics in 1991 he saw it as an opportunity to do some good for the country and earn his place in history, and knew the risks involved in the enterprise.

Now that he is actually in the line of fire, there is a hint that he is inclined to duck. But he cannot. Even as Congress will have to pay for the sins of the Singh government this time round, he has to take the rap for it. His supporters should not try to pass the blame on to the party and to Gandhi. They do injustice to Singh's sense of integrity.

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