Waiting for a political PM
The nine-phase poll involving 543 parliamentary seats over a period of 36 days is now over. In another two days time we would have the results. If the trends and indications are anything to go by, BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi makes it to the South Block office on the Raisina Hills. In case of the opinion polls getting it wrong, we would move towards a period of political uncertainty inviting varied permutations and combinations to cobble together a government.
I necessarily do not mind an ‘unstable’ government as far as it keeps away return of a ‘very stable’ government headed by a prime minister who owes no accountability to the people of the country. I am a wee bit worried on this count as senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid at the popular ‘Ghosanapatra’ programme of ABP News a few days back had indicated that given the demands of the prime minister’s office, the person should be relieved of the political responsibilities.
This indicated that in case, despite all the odds, if the UPA manages a third term, they could again have a political nincompoop as the prime minister. Coming straight to the point, there could not have been a worse arrangement in a parliamentary democracy than what we got to see under the two UPA governments. It’s the prime minister and not his/her party which enjoys the confidence of the house. As the leader of the house s/he is required to provide leadership not just to the government but also to Parliament. For the past 10 years we have seen just the opposite happen.
With Manmohan Singh as prime minister, the biggest casualty has been the functioning of the parliamentary government. No were in the world does the chief executive of a democratic state act as the stenographer of the head of the ruling party. There are instances in history, even in Indian democracy, of powerful rivals of the political executive within the party but never has the person been dwarfed the way Manmohan Singh was. Nation’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had the biggest challenge to overcome the influence of stalwarts not only within the Congress party but from other political streams who had fought should-to-shoulder with the Congress during freedom struggle. Nehru’s biggest challenge came during the first decade of his 17-year-rule when not only the making of the constitution took place but it was also effectively implemented.
In his role as the chief executive of the government, Nehru had to deal with luminaries like Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Maulana Azad from his own party, who many a times did not concur with his line. In addition to them there were leaders like Babasaheb Ambedkar, Syama Prasad Mukherjee, C Rajagopalachari and Ram Manohar Lohia, who were from outside the Congress realm and kept the prime minister on his toes. But it’s to the credit of Nehru that he managed to steer the coalition of ideas and ideologies towards a common goal. His successor Lal Bahadur Shastri, though physically and politically a diminutive man, rose to the challenge of leading the country during war with Pakistan. During his short tenure, he died in harness; Shastri left an indelible mark as a firm leader capable of taking difficult decisions. He was succeeded by Indira Gandhi who managed to come out of the shadow of the syndicate of senior party leaders much sooner than expected and provide a very firm and strong leadership to both the party and the government.
Unlike her father, Indira did not believe in the coalition of ideas and ideologies and merged the office of head of government and the head of the ruling party into one entity. This format remained with the Congress during the regimes of the next two prime ministers – Rajiv Gandhi and PV Narasimha Rao. During the brief interregnum of Janata Party, Janata Dal and National Front governments, the heads of the government from Morarji Desai to Inder Kumar Gujral maintained the primacy of the prime minister’s office.
This format was dismantled during the 10-year UPA regime where the head of the government was arm-twisted by the political bosses to work for the interests of the stakeholders in the ruling party. The government’s inability to nip the scams in bud and push through welfare laws with aplomb are a reflection of the poor leadership which the prime minister’s office provided to the government under Manmohan Singh. The country today needs a prime minister who could be a man or woman of his or her own means. S/he should be the unquestioned leader of his/her party and have the confidence of the people to end policy paralysis in the government. As the head of the government, the person should not be hostage to any extra-constitutional powers.
The next prime minister should have a clear roadmap and also a clear idea how to go about achieving it. Ordinarily, reconciliation and coordination should be the ideal tools for bringing consensus but if need arises, a firm stand on matters policy should be taken by the next prime minister, if the person wishes to bring the nation out of the morass it finds itself to be in today.
In case of Narendra Modi becoming the prime minister, he would be coming to the office leading his party through a grueling and extensive campaign fought on his name and his capabilities. This would give him all the attributes of making into a politically firm prime minister. How well he would rise to it, is for everybody to look forward to.
The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post