Monday, September 3, 2012

Manmohan's cabinet offer dilutes .. Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/September 02, 2012

Manmohan’s Cabinet offer dilutes brand Rahul every time he makes it

It was a statement that the nation has waited eight years to hear from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. His opponents have been attacking him for compromising the office of the Prime Minister. His silence on many national issues is considered his biggest liability.

But last weekend, Manmohan broke his silence. Returning home from Iran, he told the media, “I have to maintain the dignity of the Prime Minister’s office. I can’t get into a slanging match with political leaders. It is better, as I said earlier, that I would keep silent. ” He was responding to questions on his response to the BJP’s massive attack on him.

Earlier, he had waxed philosophical outside Parliament by reciting the Urdu couplet: “Hazaron jawabon se achchi hai meri khamoshi, na jaane kitne sawalon ki aabru rakhi (My silence is better than a thousand answers; it keeps intact the honour of innumerable questions). ” Despite provocations, he has refrained from retorting to any ugly barb from his adversaries. The prime minister of a huge nation like India is expected to speak rarely. Because when he speaks, the nation must listen.

Manmohan is only following examples set by illustrious predecessors like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and P V Narasimha Rao. Neither ever spoke. Their gestures were more powerful than words. But when it comes to any question regarding any member of the Gandhi family, Manmohan doesn’t mind speaking more than what is required.

He is perceived as one of the most honest prime ministers of India. He has always avoided personal vendettas and confrontations. But when it comes to talking about the Gandhis— unlike Rao—discretion and silence haven’t been Manmohan’s virtues.

If the uncharitable charge of being a dummy and the weakest Prime Minister wasn’t enough, his magnanimous offer to the Gandhi scion has definitely eroded his authority and dignity. Manmohan has the full authority to induct anyone in his cabinet.

But never before in history has any of India’s previous 12 prime ministers invited an MP so many times to join the Cabinet, and got no response. Polite rejection of the request from the Prime Minister definitely erodes the authority of the chief executive of the country.

The selection of Cabinet members has always been a secret affair and confined to discussions within the party forums. Asked about Rahul’s announcement of playing a greater role in politics, Manmohan told reporters, “I’ve always favoured that Rahul play a more active role in government.

I have invited him to be a member of the Cabinet on several occasions. I sincerely hope that this time he will consider my request seriously. ” It wasn’t for the first time that Manmohan was pleading with Rahul to join his Cabinet. For the past three years, the Prime Minister has offered him a berth over half a dozen times, as if no other Congress MP in the Lok Sabha was qualified to join the government.

Manmohan even offered to pave the way for Rahul’s induction as prime minister. It was in May 2010, that Manmohan made the remark which took even his admirers by surprise—“ I feel younger people should take over. I will be happy to make way for the younger people as and when the party decides. ” Surprisingly, neither the party nor any Gandhi Parivar member has indicated that they would like to replace the Prime Minister before 2014.

They have been strongly and publicly supporting Manmohan on every issue. In 2008, Sonia Gandhi changed her personal view on civil nuclear energy only because Manmohan felt strongly about the deal. During the past few years, she has always allowed him to choose his own team of advisers and ministers to lead key ministries.

However, what bothers even hardcore Manmohan loyalists is Rahul’s repeated rejection. Rahul has always maintained that that he would abide by the Congress High Command’s and the Prime Minister’s decision.

But he has already conveyed his inability to join a government in which he will have no major role to play, and made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t ready to take up any government responsibility. Addressing journalists in Kolkata three years ago, Rahul said, “I would refuse (prime ministership) for two reasons.

One is that I am working on the organisation of the Congress. And I don’t have the experience to be the prime minister of the country. ” Why would Rahul need to become the Prime Minister in a coalition government, when he can get things done by merely writing a few letters? He has been meeting Manmohan at short notice and seeking solutions for complex issues like farmers’ problems, the petroleum price rise, land reforms etc.

Gandhi loyalists have been crystal clear about Rahul’s future political roadmap. They are convinced that Rahul will lead only a Congress majority government and is willing to wait for that moment. He wants to build the party so that it can be free from the clutches of regional parties. By making frequent offers, Manmohan is seen to be diluting Brand Rahul rather than building it.

The Gandhis chose Manmohan as the prime minister so that he could use his reputation and global acceptability to expand the party’s base and protect the interests of its stakeholders and shareholders. Now in return, they are looking for political dividends and not just a berth in his gargantuan Cabinet.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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