You Tarzan, me Jane

Ekalavya | Updated on July 29, 2011 Published on July 21, 2011

Elsewhere, the Prime Minister's right to sack ministers is his or hers alone. In India, the Congress president has usurped it.

For the last two weeks, the Capital was filled with the rumour that the Prime Minister's media advisor had quit. About time too, said the meanies.

One school believed that he had been asked to go. Another believed that he had resigned on his own. Both gloated.

In the event, nothing happened because the Prime Minister seems to love his toothaches.

So, nasty people, albeit with a taste for Shakespeare, said, “Oh, if he can't rid himself of his pesky vicar, how will he rid himself of the bishops?”

He can't, came the rhetorical answer.

So the cavities will be there and the Prime Minister will continue to make do with pain-killers. That, however, is his problem.

But people in pain, even prime ministers, tend to become introverted, leaving the cooking and cleaning to others. Then, indubitably, it becomes the country's problem.

Dr Singh's toothaches, around 50 of them, have become our pain.

The ‘booro-krate'

For several years after he became finance minister, when accused of being an economist, Dr Manmohan Singh would say with a modest simper that he was a politician now.

That went down well with fellow PhDs, who giggled in embarrassment and said what a jolly clever fellow he was. But the politicians were not amused. Privately, they referred to him as a ‘boorokrate'. They still do.

At its most charitable, it means they view him as a linear thinker. At worst, it means he does not know the art of governance which, by definition, calls for thinking in amoral ways.

One of these amoralities involves the right to sack colleagues, just to show who the boss is. Indeed, in some ways it is more important than the right to choose them.

Dr Singh has been denied both rights. In the process he has overlooked an extremely important constitutional issue on which he should have been advised by his secretariat.

This is that under the Westminster system, the Prime Minister has a duty to provide the sovereign with the best government. In that respect, Dr Singh has most certainly failed.

It is not his fault but who will blame anyone but him?

The ‘good butcher'

A prime minister's right to sack a colleague or colleagues is, in fact, unlimited in scope.

According to Richard Crossman, the famous chronicler of the House of Commons, it is to be exercised “at will”. Tony Benn, another famous British parliamentarian, said it is “unfettered”.

Other constitutional experts in Britain have held that the Prime Minister must use this power as a “Damocles' sword” which hangs over ministers' heads, should they dare to step out of line or turn out to be incompetent and/or corrupt.

So, not for nothing is a good prime minister also called a “good butcher”. The skill with which he wields the carving knife is usually taken as an acceptable measure of his record in office because his duty is to provide the best, and not the least inconvenient, government.

That said, British constitutional experts have also recognised that while having this power is one thing, being able to exercise it is quite another.

Peculiar situation

This has led to a strange constitutional situation. The distinction between a party president, the prime minister and the President of India has become blurred. It is the party president who now has the sole power of dismissal.

This reversal is extraordinary because in Britain, which we have copied, Parliament fought hard and long to take away this right from the sovereign. In India, the Congress party has willingly surrendered it to someone who, unlike the British sovereign, is wholly free of any constitutional constraints, even her own party's! Indeed, there is no power on earth that can dismiss a Congress president, whereas he or she can dismiss and suspend anyone.

What kind of nonsense is this, Sirjee?

Published on July 21, 2011
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