Ekalavya

Maunam Mohanam

Ekalavya | Updated on March 09, 2018

The issue is really how much benefit of doubt should be given to a PM. And that boils down to just one thing eventually: The sort of person the PM is.



Only Prime Ministers know this: Sometimes they have to take decisions for reasons that cannot be disclosed. Like this one on FDI in retail.

But ‘cannot' is an ambiguous word. Is it ‘cannot' because should not? Or cannot because will not? Perhaps cannot because must not?

Mostly no one ever really ever gets to know which. So the country never finds out whether the self-imposed rule was implemented for good reasons or bad.

That's one of the few good things of being PM. You can always hide behind reasons of state.

But the suspicions remain. Was it for the country? Was it for the party? Was it for neither? Or both?

Sealed lips

Well, whatever. That much discretion must be allowed to heads of government. They do have to make some very tough and unpopular choices.

In the end, though, the issue is really how much benefit of doubt should be given to a PM. And that boils down to just one thing eventually: The sort of person the PM is.

India has been very fortunate in this regard. Except may be once, it has had persons who would always act in the national interest, even if later on it turned out that it was poorly served.

For example, when Indira Gandhi personally negotiated the extent of the 1966 devaluation in March that year with the president of the World Bank (and not the IMF as is widely believed), she didn't tell anyone till May.

Then when it was announced in June, she made her finance minister, Sachin Chowdhury, take the blame. That decision backfired.

Another instance was when she returned to power in 1980, just after the Soviets had gone into Afghanistan. She was furious with them but was unable to say so publicly and was seen as having supported the decision.

There is also the Westland helicopters purchase in 1985. Why did Rajiv Gandhi approve it after having said in the Lok Sabha that it was a useless machine?

In 1995, P. V. Narasimha Rao was on the verge of testing a nuclear device but refrained at the last minute. We now know what happened but who knew at the time?

These are only some of the examples. There must be dozens more of, or about, which nothing is known.

Hai mai ki karaan?

Dr Manmohan Singh knows all about it. Indeed, he has had early practice.

In 1983, as RBI Governor, he allowed the Bank of Commerce and Credit International, which was owned by a Pakistani and which went bust in 1990, to be given a banking licence — after the RBI had resisted it for seven years.

He, too, had resisted it and even offered to resign if the Government insisted. Why then did he allow it? We will never know the real reasons but it is a reasonable suspicion that it had something to do with a foreign policy issue involving the US.

This leads to the question that all the clever Indians have never asked: what is the US asking for in return for bringing Pakistan to heel?

Aah! Oh! Well! Hmm…

Oh dear! Never thought of that.

Published on November 30, 2011

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