Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the much publicised and debated interview with the ANI
Editor, while replying to a question on the accusation that institutions had weakened under the
BJP regime mentioned that the “Congress has no right to speak on this issue. Against the PM
and PMO, the NAC was formed.” This obviously was a reference to apparent and hugely hyped
subservience of the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the then Congress President,
Sonia Gandhi.
An academician turned bureaucrat was hand-picked up by the original ‘Accidental Prime
Minster’ PV Narsimha Rao to bail out the economy through a major crisis. He did a great job as
the Finance Minister and was, yet again, picked up by the Congress President to steer the
country in 2004. A person who had not gone through the rough and tumble of politics was
expected to manage a government formed through forging a coalition of 22 political parties
based on a National Common Minimum Programme. Congress was the lead party in the
coalition and Sonia Gandhi was the Chairperson of the UPA. Since Manmohan Singh was not a
professional politician, he did not posses the qualities expected of the typical Indian politician by
the then large, and now increasing, sections of the electorate. He is neither a good public
speaker nor an aggressive person and the ‘cherry on the cake’ is that he is a demonstratively
respectful person. In the ten years as Prime Minister he actually thought that his job was a
favour from the Congress President and like a gentleman he showed his reverence for his lady
‘employer’ even in public.
In the parliamentary democracy that our forefathers have chosen for governance of the country,
we elect members to the Lok Sabha from amongst the various candidates fielded by different
political parties and independent individuals in different constituencies and the party that
manages to get the majority is given the right to form the government. In the event that no
single party gets the required majority, coalitions and support seeking – for various negotiated
considerations – are worked out. The party or coalition that comes to power elects/selects its
candidate for the job of the Prime Minister.
A political party goes to the hustings with a manifesto and the President of the party takes the
responsibility of ensuring that what the party had promised in its manifesto, or otherwise through
perception creation, is attempted to be delivered – if not completely delivered. In this operating
framework, the President of the party that comes to power has a huge responsibility on
deliverables. It needs to be understood that people elect party candidates and not the Prime Minister. Under Sonia’s leadership, UPA got elected to power and she ‘anointed’ Manmohan
Singh as the Prime Minister. Since she was the President of the Party that was the largest
partner of the coalition – of which she was the Chairperson – that had come to power, it was her
job to ensure that what was promised got delivered. The Prime Minster, obviously, had the role
of steering the Executive but the larger operating framework for him was driven by what his
party had promised to the electorate and what was agreed to in the National Common Minimum
Programme of the UPA. In this background, there is reason to believe that the then President of
the party was expected to play an as important a role as the then PM.
This is exactly phenomenon that exits even today. It is common knowledge that Amit Shah is
just as much powerful as the current Prime Minister. And, this is so despite the fact that we
have a Prime Minister who has gone through the political ranks, was projected as the Prime
Ministerial candidate and has used all possible machinations to acquire the top job. In the UPA
regime, Manmohan Singh, who was a perfect gentleman and anything but a politician, was
given the top job for reasons best known to the then Congress President. In this working
relationship Manmohan Singh – more for reasons of his academic background and personality
and not for, what is generally perceived, the desire to retain the job – was seen as being
subservient and accountable to the Congress President. In some ways he was actually
accountable to the Chairperson of UPA because she was, in turn, accountable to the people
that had elected the coalition to power.
Being cultured and soft spoken did not make Manmohan Singh a weak PM. People can ridicule
him for the kind of respect that he publicly displayed, and continues to display, for the then UPA
Chairperson and might find his looks and articulation amusing but no one can discount his
abilities and contribution. Corruption in UPA regime did surface and got highlighted –
interestingly, by UPA itself and later by NDA – but in the Indian political space corruption is the
raison d’etre for anyone getting into politics. One rarely comes across a politician living within
his means. Politicians – across party lines – who have no background to boast of and are not
seemingly involved with any income generating activity shamelessly flaunt their wealth and
lifestyle. Accusing UPA of corruption is like the pot calling the kettle black. As long as the
discourse is about the nature and scale of corruption and a party starts seeking public sympathy
and mandate just because a lower number of scams were unearthed about them, we are
heading nowhere – if not towards a disaster. The irony is that ‘zero tolerance’ for corruption
means ‘zero income’ for a party. In this situation, how does one put together the huge
resources required to create perceptions for garnering votes. There is no doubt that UPA I and
II governments were corrupt. The question that remains unanswered is that in the present day
political dispensation, have we become corruption free. And, if we have – which we are made to
believe – how is the political party in power funding its rather extravagant indulgences. If people
are organisations are donating money, what are they expecting and getting in return?
The 22 party coalition called UPA was held together through a National Common Minimum
Programme and an advisory body, National Advisory Committee (NAC) was set up by the UPA Government, with Sonia Gandhi as its Chairperson, to advise the Prime Minister. Since
individual parties had their own manifestos, these parties agreed to work within the framework
defined in the National Common Minimum Programme and it became incumbent on the
establishment to set up the NAC to advise the PM on what the individual parties had agreed to
do as a collective entity. There, obviously, was opposition to the formation of the NAC but, it was a bold and a pragmatic step for ensuring that democracy took deeper roots in the pre-legislative consultation process. There would have been reason to criticize the role of the NAC had it not drafted some of the bills that were disruptive in nature such as Right to Information Act, Right to Education Act, Employee Guarantee Act, and the Food Security Bill.
The essence of the entire argument is that since the Prime Minister of the country is not elected
by the people directly (despite attempts made to make us believe the contrary) he is, and has to
be, in some ways driven by the mandate given by the people to the party and which is steered
by its President. The accountability of the President of the ruling party to the people that have
voted the party to power make it incumbent upon him to exercise some influence on the PM. In
the case of UPA, since there were many parties getting together, this influence was exercised
through the NAC – which had some of the best intellectuals, experts and activists as its
members, other than the Chairperson who was there because of her political position. The NAC
was able to translate the elements of the National Common Minimum Programme into
deliverable action plans.
People – including the PM – criticising the NAC should look at things in perspective. NAC, a
body of eminent and accomplished people, was set up by the Government of the day to advise
the PM and not review the performance of the Government. The role and functioning of the
NAC, which was – and still is – criticised for its extra-constitutional nature sounds like a fairy tale
in comparison to the horror story that went into circulation sometime in September 2015 when
RSS reportedly reviewed the performance of the then15 month old Modi Government over a
three day meeting and in which 12 senior ministers made presentations.
The Congress – BJP mud-slinging match would go on for the next few months, and even
thereafter, and people need to be prepared for being subjected to aggressive propaganda for
perception creation. People who vote politicians to power have to become a little impermeable
to propaganda. UPA faced a humiliating defeat and was thrown out of power and what it did –
for which it was rejected – does not need to be highlighted yet again by the BJP/NDA when
pitching for a second term. A party’s failures – for which it has been punished – cannot be its
opponent’s strength for all times to come. BJP and its party leaders need to let the country
know what they you have done during the period that they have been in power – in real and
tangible terms and not announcement of programmes and slogans – to seek a second
mandate. Politicians need to realise that the electorate is intelligent, evolving, and getting
increasingly demanding and would take another ‘ride’ only if it is a derby and not for a trot on the back of a slotful horse.

One Comment

Leave a Reply