The buck stops here

Ranabir Ray Choudhury | Updated on March 12, 2018


The 33rd US President, Harry S. Truman (1945-53), had an inscription on his office table facing the visitor which proclaimed “The buck stops here”, meaning, of course, that the President did not “pass the buck” and that he was fully responsible for the way his Administration ran the United States.

Generally speaking, no one can fault a statement like this coming as it does from the Head of a Government, and of course it applies to all Heads of Government anywhere and through time.


It is against this background that the recent “Coalgate” issues need to be looked at, the present controversy focusing on the extent of the culpability of the Prime Minister for governance defects in his government. Briefly, allegations of corruption have been levelled at Dr Manmohan Singh for improper allocation of coal blocks by his UPA-1 Government, a finding that has been made by the Comptroller and Auditor-General relating to a time when Dr Singh was concurrently Coal Minister.

The Anna Hazare team has demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister on this specific ground, while those against the demand have stated that the office of the Prime Minister should not be brought under attack. For his part, Dr Singh has very appropriately proclaimed he would “give up my public life if the allegations are proved against me”, stating also that, “My long public career as Finance Minister, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha and now as Prime Minister has been an open book”.

Since 1947, there have been occasions when Civil Aviation Ministers as well as Railway Ministers have given up office following air and train crashes, although it is clear that, at a personal level, the Ministers involved have been in no way been directly involved in the events. Should, therefore, the Prime Minister resign for the draft CAG finding of misgovernance, resulting in heavy financial losses to the national exchequer, on the ground that he held the Coal portfolio at the time the decisions leading to the losses were taken?


Very basically, this can only be a personal decision depending on the extent the individual concerned accepts the responsibility for the policy lapse. After all, a Prime Minister's resignation must always lead to severe consequences for national governance. The more important point here is that controversy over such an issue should never deflect the current campaign against corruption from attaining its principal objective, namely, driving the fear of God into those who are lining their own pockets through the use of official machinery.

With all their faults, Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev are the best things that could have happened to the nation. Their mission cannot be faulted.

Published on June 05, 2012

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