Rahul Gandhi has been pilloried all over Twitter and elsewhere for his audacity in demeaning the office of Prime Minister through his public putdown of the government's ordinance to negate a Supreme Court verdict on convicted MPs.
However, this criticism - while valid - deflects blame from where it should really rest: the Prime Minister. There is much sympathy for Manmohan Singh for having had to face public humiliation from the Congress Vice President. The Economic Times even called on Sonia Gandhi to discipline Rahul in an edit titled "Rahul Gandhi's ignoble tantrum". But this is all wrong. It is Manmohan Singh who has demeaned the office of Prime Minister by acting like a toothless regent or family retainer for the last nine years and more.
Even if you are an appointed PM without public or legislators' support, you always have the power to say no.That is what Manmohan Singh is guilty of - he never said no to A Raja, to Suresh Kalmadi, to all the crooks who benefited from the Coalgate scam, or even to a nobody like Rahul Gandhi. He did everything the family wanted, and so he is sure to accept public humiliation in order to let the Gandhi scion pretend to be a knight in shining armour single-handedly battling criminality in politics.
Granted, saying no too often may have meant losing his job, but it was Singh's decision to live with ignominy rather than self-respect. If he wants the job only in order to enter the Guinness Book of Records as the only Indian PM to complete 10 years in office after Indira Gandhi, that shows his priorities. It is about himself. One cannot expect him to uphold the dignity of his office or the nation's honour.
Those who prefer to remain doormats will be treated like doormats. This is what Rahul Gandhi did - and why blame him for that? Rahul never suspected that Manmohan Singh was anything other than a doormat. Doormats are meant to wipe your dirty feet.
The second, and more important, issue thrown up by Rahul's "nonsensical" intervention on the criminal protection ordinance is more fundamental. Manmohan Singh losing face and demeaning his office is a private tragedy that does short-term political damage, but the root cause of this situation is the one that has been repeated ad nauseam: the separation of power from responsibility.
Even here, it is Manmohan Singh who is clearly responsible. Anyone who is willing to let real power rest elsewhere and is willing to carry the can for someone else’s misdemeanours deserves what he gets.
In the real world, no leader actually wields absolute power – not even autocrats. Prime Ministers have to depend on powerful party leaders and various lobbies for support, not excluding political allies. This means the office of Prime Minister has to work through differences and evolve acceptable compromises.
However, compromising with powerful interests still leaves you with the power of agency – your ability to at least influence those interests and lobbies and stamping your own role in the process.
In the Indian context, we have seen the Left seek power without responsibility in UPA-1, we have seen the late Sena chief Bal Thackeray do this with the Maharashtra Chief Minister when the Sena-BJP government was on power. Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral also lacked political power when they were PMs, but they worked on compromise nevertheless. They never pretended they were all-powerful, but they did try to influence decisions. They were not ciphers.
What we have not seen so far is a Prime Minister who has completely abdicated responsibility, abandoned all pretence of being at least an influencer in decisions that have an ethical dimension, and given up trying to govern, despite handicaps.
Manmohan Singh has often bemoaned the compulsions of coalition politics, but he has not spoken the real truth: inner-party compulsions, represented by the mother-son duo of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul.
This is why he put up with the “nonsense” of having a National Advisory Council (NAC) which functioned as a kind of super-cabinet run by Sonia above the constitutional cabinet.
The real damage done by Manmohan Singh is that he has demolished the office of prime minister like no one else could.
But we have to look on the bright side. Barring Congress party sycophants, nobody with any ability to think will now accept a dummy as Prime Minister.
Hopefully, the era of dummy prime ministers will come to an end in 2014.
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Updated Date: Sep 28, 2013 11:32:43 IST