Sonia Mark II is the picture of vigour and dynamism — all that a purposeful Prime Minister should have been doing as leader of the nation.
Do you see what I see, and, more to the point, does the good doctor Manmohan Singh see what both you and I see? And if he does, is he taking it to be all in the game, or with a sense of acute embarrassment?
On August 8, everyone watching Lok Sabha TV channel during the debate on the Assam disturbances, must have rubbed his/her eyes at something unprecedented: A normally calm, unruffled, staid Sonia Gandhi, bursting out and wildly gesticulating in uncontrollable fury at L.K.Advani calling the UPA “illegitimate”, egging on the Treasury Benches and the members of the Congress Party and the Alliance to shout down the Opposition and forcing the BJP leader to withdraw the word.
Since then, more instances of her aggressive political activism filling in for the Prime Minister are piling up: Her firm and open directive to the flock not to let the BJP get away with its obstructionist tactics, and her lashing out at the BJP in the course of her address to the members of her Party.
She called it “a matter of shame and regret” that the BJP was “mocking the people of this country”, “creating confusion in the minds of people”, making “blackmail…(its) bread and butter…which is a matter of concern even for some of its allies”, and being “absolutely irresponsible” in not allowing Parliament to function “when serious issues are affecting the country.”
She has followed it all up with an hour’s meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee, and extended consultations with the Prime Minister and other Ministers of the Core Committee on forging an effective strategy to break the impasse.
Unusually for her, in the full view of MPs in Lok Sabha, she walked over to Mulayam Singh Yadav and sat by his side engaged in earnest conversation. She has even sought to seize the initiative for a rapprochement by reaching out to the Leader of the Opposition, Sushma Swaraj.
ON THE SKID
In short, Sonia Mark II is the picture of vigour and dynamism, and all that a purposeful and spirited Prime Minister should have been doing as the leader of the nation.
It is clear as noonday Sun that after prolonged agonising, the chairperson of the UPA, Sonia Gandhi, has decided that, without her taking a hand, the situation was becoming murky and unmanageable and would quite likely become irreversible.
Manmohan Singh’s determined maintenance of the dignity of his office with his statuesque pose reminiscent of “Patience on a monument, smiling at grief” (to quote the Bard of Avon), telling himself that Hazaaron jawabon se acchi hai meri khamoshi (My silence is far superior to a thousand answers) was dragging the Congress Party, the UPA and the Government to the very brink, exposing them to the danger every moment of tipping over.
With the general election looming large, and with the UPA and the Congress on the skid according to straw polls, she had to make a choice between drift and decisiveness, and there should have been no doubt at all in her mind as to where the choice lay.
If the good doctor Manmohan Singh is sensible enough to take to heart clues to her intention Sonia is leaving all over, he would also be giving her a choice between him and someone else.
For, Sonia is not an Iron Lady made of the stuff of her mother-in-law, Indira Gandhi, who threw out Morarji Desai from the Cabinet in a jiffy and sent hundreds of the country’s foremost leaders to jails as far away from their homes as possible so that they were denied the visits of their friends and relatives.
Sonia would not like on her own to show the door to someone like Manmohan Singh who has been so gentle and inoffensive and in addition, so faithful and docile to her. If he gives her the choice right now, I am sure she would grab it.
That aside, impressively and calculating as they may be, all the moves she has made so far, do not go far enough. Without addressing certain other concomitant issues, they may, in fact, be akin to crossing half the well.
RUTHLESS WEEDING OUT
The first is about the posts of the President of the Congress Party and the Prime Minister. Should they be separate or merged?
The experience right from Independence suggests that keeping them separate had spelt trouble for both.
The Prime Minister, in effect, only carries out the policies of the Party (or the Alliance) and although he might have been associated with their formulation, as a separate entity, and a Constitutional authority in his own right, he might still occasionally become the source of tension (to wit, P.V.Narasimha Rao) or dissatisfaction (to wit, Manmohan Singh).
Similarly, a separate, self-opinionated Party or Alliance Chief (to wit, Purshottam Das Tandon) can be a thorn on the Prime Minister’s flesh.
The resolution of the issue cannot be burked any longer and it is best Sonia grasps the nettle and finds a way out.
The second is the composition of the Cabinet. Mere tinkering or reshuffling will not simply do. There will have to be a ruthless weeding out of non-performers and those whom every school boy knows to be dishonest and disreputable.
The new Cabinet should have a preponderance of young, fresh faces, keen and eager to achieve results, and they should be given a free hand. Indeed, at a pinch, I should get rid of more than half of the present bunch.
The third is the necessity to make inner-Party democracy a reality by ensuring free flow of ideas and opinions between higher reaches and the grass roots and strengthening trust and confidence between the two.
Finally, and most importantly, it is imperative to restore the credibility and vitality of institutions such as the bureaucracy, the enforcement and investigative agencies, and regulatory bodies which, over a period, have been trampled upon and nearly destroyed.