Shall we tell the Prime Minister?

Undermined and overruled! The real executive head of India, the Prime Minister, has no clue what is happening in the country that he rules and the government that he runs. Rather, this ruler is ruled by many and run down by all and sundry! The recent volte face of the Central Government on the divestment issue as a whole is final proof of the pudding that the PMO is defunct, mortally and morally! Some months back, we had suggested in these columns that Dr Manmohan Singh, should either stand up or step down. The choice is narrower now. If he does not quit right away, he and his reputation, whatever is left, are doomed forever!

Dr Manmohan Singh, for sure, has none else to blame except himself for his pathetic plight but the entire blame for the utter degradation and the ignominies that the PMO is currently going through should fall squarely at the doors of 10 Janpath, the real power centre and its resident, puppeteer, Sonia Gandhi, sacrificer non pareil! That Dr Manmohan as PM would join the elite club of respected rubber stamps was quite well known the day he landed the job, as a proxy to the sole Saint Ultimate at the penultimate moment. After all, Manmohan was chosen for the top job not for his academic brilliance or administrative track record, which were impeccable and beyond reproach or doubt. He was picked because he was timid, unambitious and obedient and so could be kicked out anytime. Yet, the pace and manner in which the office of the PM is being kicked around like a football by every player in the present government right under the nose of his Boss, who too kicks, but from behind the scenes, is very sad and disturbing for the irreversible trend it might have set.

The credibility and authority of the PM’s post is sacred and vital for the decorous governance of this country, with all its conflicts, contradictions and confusion. Constitutionally, while all Cabinet Ministers are technically equal, the PM is often referred to as the ‘First among Equals’. The pre-eminence of the Prime Minister is owing to the fact that he heads the Cabinet and guides its decisions, often acting as the veto, if there is no consensus. Also the PM is the head of the majority party, which purportedly enjoys the confidence of the majority of the people of the country. Constitutional pundits call that post as the ‘keystone of the arch of the cabinet’. Sure, such lofty allusions are a thing of the past, what with a decade and a half of coalition politics and ‘outside support’ systems rendering that post vulnerable and weak. Yet, someone like Narasimha Rao, who headed a minority government, and Vajpayee, who ran a coalition one, did manage to retain an aura of power for the PM. The reputation and relevance of that office is at a nadir now.

The most powerful man in the country faced several infirmities right from the start. He lost an election, but entered Parliament via the Rajya Sabha, starting on the wrong foot en route to Race Course Road; after all, the ruler of people should at least be elected. This also prevented him from becoming the Congress Parliamentary party leader in the Lok Sabha, which post is held by Sonia Gandhi. Not that Manmohan would have become the CPP leader had he belonged to the Lok Sabha. But a key convention of the PM also being the leader of the majority party in the Lok Sabha was broken, rendering the PM a lesser mortal than his sponsor, right in Parliament, not just in the eyes of the sychopantic Congressmen which is only expected, but to the nation itself. The dwarfing of the PM which started then, is now a privileged parliamentary affair, day in day out.

And then after getting planted as the PM by a turn of fate, he was made to surrender his foremost prerogative: Choosing his council of ministers. The list came from 10 Janpath, halted at the PM’s for his signature on the dotted line and was quickly on its way to the President. Manmohan was told, not consulted, on who would be his colleagues in the Cabinet. As for portfolio allocation, the good man was quietly insulated from all the cold and hard bargaining with the coalition partners. Not just ministers, but the bureaucracy to PMO staff to probably even the domestic help at his Race Course road residence, the list of canditates comes from ‘his’ high command. No one owes his job to Manmohan, so no one feels accountable to him!

Little surprise, that a Laloo could appoint a commission of enquiry into the Godhra carnage even while another commision was already into it. With the SC now questioning the very rationale of the new committee, it is only Manmohan who is left holding the sack, despite he being against it. No surprises that an Arjun Singh could set the nation afire by reigniting the reservation issue without even casting a glance at the PMO. At least, Nero knew Rome would burn and went fiddling, but it was all bliss for our PM till he saw the morning papers. The most ‘honest man’ in the country has the most tainted characters as his Cabinet colleagues and can’t do a thing about it: Shibu Sorens prevail in gay abandon! While the Congress Ministers look upto Janpath, the Ministers from the coalition partners are a law unto themselves. They are beyond review let alone being replaced for non performance. Adding to all these inside woes are the frequent pulls and tugs from outside.

The reversal of the disinvestment policy, whatever its merits, should be the last straw for after all economics is Manmohan’s cup of tea. The reformer par excellence has now been challenged at his very core and made to eat humple pie. The nation can understand how insulting he must feel deep down and what a loss of face and a setback for his reformist credentials the somersault is. But, while his colleagues and his partymen hardly have anything to tell him or consult him on, we the people might have something for him: The joke is on you, dear Sardar!

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Jawahar T R