Monday, May 7, 2012

The Raisina Rigmarole is Not in your interest/ Sunday Standard/May 06, 2012


Be Warned, Pranabda, The Raisina Rigmarole is Not in Your Interest

Dear Pranabda,

I have known you for 37 years. I have been a witness to your rise, fall, and rise. During the Emergency, you were the most effective Minister of State for Finance. You were one of the few trusted ministers on whom Sanjay Gandhi depended on for sane advice. Since then, you have traversed many politically verdant valleys and humungous hills. The latest journey to Raisina Hill being proposed for you is much more arduous, tortuous and full of complex twists and turns. From your North Block office, it is just walking distance. You have been there many times and are deeply aware of what transpires and conspires inside. As a man of many seasons and a master of complex politics, you will seriously ponder over the implications of embarking upon this short sunset walk. You may have noticed that it is not just your own party, which is talking about your suitability to occupy India’s highest constitutional post. Some of your jealous colleagues have also joined the chorus. You are eminently more qualified than any other surviving politician for the post. But your party never thought even once that you were, perhaps, the most acceptable and experienced political leader to become the prime minister when it chose Manmohan Singh who had worked under you in various capacities. In 1984, Giani Zail Singh— then the president and one of your closest friends—and the Congress leadership preferred Rajiv Gandhi to you for obvious reasons. That is history now, and you would like to forget some of its dark chapters.

For the past eight years, you have been the de facto prime minister without enjoying the security of the elite Special Protection Group. It is precisely thanks to your experienced fingers being in every political pie that most parties feel you could be the consensus candidate for president. But as you are well aware, politics today is a game of conspiracies. The opposition parties want you to move out of North Block because:

• They want this paralysed government to go into coma. Even the BJP, which has opposed the idea of a Congressman becoming the President, is quietly willing to let you move into Rashtrapati Bhavan. With you out of politics, the UPA will be left with no leader who can deal with internal and external pressures. There is none in the Congress who can chair over 50 Group of Ministers meetings and also deal with the 45 opposition parties in Parliament.

• Even Mamata Banerjee and Mulayam Singh Yadav would be happy to see you out of the finance ministry because they will find your successor much more amenable. All Opposition chief ministers are asking for relief packages. But your hands are tied. You have been forced to dole out humungous amounts for only Congress-sponsored schemes. Once you are moved out, they may be able to dictate their terms in return for their support.

• All O pposition leaders are aware that it is you who silences recalcitrant ministers at Cabinet meetings because the prime minister prefers maunvrat. Once you are absent, Cabinet meetings will be free-for-all events and will reflect the further erosion of governance.

• The Opposition is also convinced that as president, you would allow the misuse of the Central government to destabilise unfriendly state governments. They feel none of the governors have the ability to convert their Raj Bhavans into headquarters of the ruling party at the Centre.

• Above all, the Opposition is confident that you may not buckle under pressure while deciding the prime minister in 2014, if no party gets an absolute majority. If you are still nursing your wounds caused by the denial of the prime ministership, you will not be over-enthusiastic in anointing a Gandhi as the prime minister.

• You disarm the Opposition in Parliament with your barbs, arguments, anger and even scolding to ensure that some business is conducted. Even at 77, you work for over 17 hours a day, giving a complex to your younger and ambitious colleagues. You are the leader of the House in the Lok Sabha. Your only replacement could be Sonia Gandhi, but she wouldn’t like to be bogged down with cumbersome and dirty legislative responsibilities.

• You are the only politician who knows parliamentary procedures, has read the Constitution and is fully aware of legislative history. Your absence from Parliament would be the Congress’s loss but the Opposition’s gain.

• A few of your colleagues aspiring to your post also want to prove that Pranabda, after all, is power-hungry too; he doesn’t mind being a rubber stamp in the Rashrapati Bhavan.

• Your party wants you to be kicked upstairs so that they can pass on the buck for the economic crisis to you and your fiscal and monetary policies. They want you to be good political riddance.

I urge you to keep your eyes open, mouth shut and ears closer to the walls. You are not in a win-win situation. If you are finally chosen, you will just be a prisoner of the Constitution, comfortably housed in a luxurious palace built by the British. If you are denied the presidency, it will erode your image as an erudite, credible and efficient politician. You have to find out whether it is an enemy or a friend who has floated your name for Raisina Hill.
Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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