He lowered the dignity of his office by being apolitical

So, we have two books out in the market talking about the Prime Minister being the weakest we’ve ever had — one by his former media advisor, Sanjaya Baru, and the other by a former secretary to the government, PC Parakh. The media says the books have savaged Manmohan Singh for supposedly being a puppet at the hands of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Singh’s daughter, for one, is dismayed at the manner in which he has been portrayed. However, the BJP has preferred to target the Congress president for compromising the dignity and importance of the PM’s job. What’s going on?

It’s a pretty elaborate farce. Baru’s book, in particular, works well for Singh by reinforcing his carefully cultivated anti-political image — of being a decent, honest, educated middle-class individual besieged by power-hungry and seedy politicians. With ‘populist’ party bosses snapping at his heels, how could he have pursued his reforms agenda? The English language print and visual media, and its middle-class following, have largely stood by him — as the committed reformer ‘humiliated’ by Sonia Gandhi.

But today is Singh’s moment, whatever his daughter might say; Baru’s book is, in effect, Singh’s parting shot at Sonia Gandhi — an acerbic resignation letter.

Does Singh deserve sympathy? The BJP is right when it says that the dignity of the PM’s office has been lowered, but skirts the basic reason: the PM is not a Lok Sabha member. This has reduced his acceptability within the party, the government and among parliamentarians; he’s not one of them. His contempt for the political process initially earned him the support of urbane India but that worked against him later — as it indeed should.

How can the head of a democratically elected government be allowed to evade elections? The lesson from the UPA governance model is this: Not just the head of government but all its important ministers should belong to the Lok Sabha. To harp about dual power centres is to miss the point. The government and the party are not water-tight units; the people vote for both. It is for the party and the government to work out a smooth arrangement.

So, will the BJP press for a Constitutional amendment on Lok Sabha membership? The NDA vested huge power in unelected ministers — remember Arun Shourie?

Senior Assistant Editor

(This article was published on April 18, 2014)
XThese are links to The Hindu Business Line suggested by Outbrain, which may or may not be relevant to the other content on this page. You can read Outbrain's privacy and cookie policy here.