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Manmohan is just another politician

July 09, 2004

It was a character in an Agatha Christie mystery who referred to murder being most difficult the first time, being driven by necessity on the second occasion, and becoming a habit subsequently. It's an analogy that may be instructive in understanding the moral and political imperatives behind last Friday's shameless display of what can best be dubbed constitutional adultery.

In an ideal world, the peremptory dismissal of four governors by the UPA should have occasioned a much more fierce reaction than just raised eyebrows. Unfortunately, ever since Indira Gandhi transformed propriety into a mere expression of table manners, there have been so many examples of governments puncturing the spirit of the Constitution that outrage has been replaced by cynical acceptance of the unacceptable.

The opposition, predictably, plans to make an almighty fuss over the dismissals in Parliament. Yet, it is well recognised by the political class that the protests are strictly for the record.

At one point in India's post-Independence history, there was a certain unwavering sanctity attached to the post of governor. Even after imperial rule ended, the occupant of a Raj Bhavan was perceived as a native version of the lat sahib -- a grandee who was above the hurly-burly of public life. The entourage of liveried attendants and military ADCs helped perpetuate the impression that the governor personified the grandeur and authority of the Indian State.

All you want to know about governors controversy

It is a different matter that many gubernatorial appointments showed an insufficient application of mind by successive regimes. In their anxiety to either 'reward' obliging civil servants or 'adjust' inconvenient senior politicians, governments did their bit to remove the sheen from the Raj Bhavans.

The old Gandhians were by far the worst offenders. With their dietary fads and social hang-ups, they did much to unwittingly keep their host states entertained. I recall how the Bengali media recoiled in absolute horror as one venerable Gandhian turned up to occupy Raj Bhavan with an array of goats in tow.

But why blame the faddists alone? One former bureaucrat appointed by the NDA government as governor of a small state in the Northeast was too pickled to convey a wholesome image of the Indian state. Another non-Congress politician, also an NDA appointee, developed such an unsavoury reputation for unethical practices that he had to be relocated to a less important state.

The offences of the politicians-turned-governors were in a different league. Since Indira Gandhi, most Congress governments have been clear that the governor must conduct himself in a way most beneficial to the ruling party. In the annals of the Congress, Surjit Singh Barnala's refusal to recommend the dismissal of the DMK government in 1990 constitutes a horror story. It is juxtaposed against the obedience of Ram Lall who sacked N T Rama Rao as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh in 1983 and installed a minority government in violation of every norm of representative government. The Congress is comfortable with its own kind as governors, just as it is comfortable with its own intellectuals to advise the HRD minister.

It does not matter that the procedure for the imposition of Article 356, courtesy a Supreme Court judgment and the Sarkaria Commission report, is more streamlined today than it was under Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. The governor still has a wide range of discretion that can be put to good advantage in destabilising a hostile state government. This is why the change of guard announced last Friday was confined to just four crucial states -- Gujarat, where the secularists want Narendra Modi's head, Goa, where the BJP has a fragile majority, Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress feels it has become necessary to teach Mulayam Singh Yadav a lesson or two, and Haryana, where an assembly election is due shortly.

The carefully determined choice of states suggests that Manmohan Singh had nothing personal against Messrs Shastri, Parmanand, Mishra and Sahni. There was no evidence of either personal or constitutional delinquency in their conduct to warrant the dismissal. Indeed, on matters of personal integrity there are few to match Vishnukant Shastri and Kidar Nath Sahni.

Nor was this the first major salvo of the de-toxification campaign that some of the Communists and their media fellow-travellers want to initiate, despite Home Minister Shivraj Patil's incredible assertion that governors should be on the same ideological wavelength as the government at the Centre. Secular McCarthyism may well be on the anvil, but it still awaits its finest hour. Yet, Patil's brazen assertion does indicate that when it comes to appealing to the secular faithful to close ranks, there is nothing more expedient than a generous offering of intolerance.

Last Friday's Presidential proclamation was dictated by pure political consideration and the need to have Congress-friendly governors in these four states. There is no such pressing demand in other states where gentlemen with an RSS past are holding office. Consequently, Madan Lal Khurana, Rama Jois and T N Chaturvedi have been spared for the moment. This is not a reflection of their lack of ideological connect with the saffron camp, but simply a question of the government's priorities. When the time comes, Khurana will be shown the fast lane back to the civic politics of Delhi.

Like other Congress prime ministers, Manmohan Singh has demonstrated that in a tussle involving what is proper and what is politically profitable, he will invariably tilt towards the unethical when it is expedient to do so. All the talk of Singh sitting on a high moral pedestal is humbug. Like others, he too is a politician.

Singh could, of course, have emulated the NDA practice of allowing constitutional appointments by previous regimes to run the full course. Instead, he let himself be led by the nose yet again -- his clean chit to the 'tainted ministers' being the first example. It is this accommodative adeptness which explains why he was the natural choice of the 'inner voice' as prime minister. With the dismissal of governors, the curtain has come down on the unreal belief that this prime minister is somehow above politics. If he was, Singh would not be in Race Course Road.

Swapan Dasgupta

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Number of User Comments: 62

Sub: Just another politition

Just like sacking of Governors,so much is said about so called "tainted" ministers.But a majority of present day generation,say in the age group of 25-45 ...

Posted by Emkay

Sub: Able - Stable - Will Kneel down PM

People differ, so does the author, so does me and so do you ... Here are my views on this .... To me it appears ...

Posted by kulmohan

Sub: Dr.Manmohan Singh has sacrificed his image of a clean technocrat

I agree with Mr.Swapan Dasgupta. It is very difficult, rather it has become impossible for Mr.Manmohan Singh to function in the righteous way. Now he ...

Posted by S.Narayanan

Sub: Just another politician

Mr Manmohan singh , be brave and force the president to give the clarifications regarding sacking of four governers. Even if few political members know ...

Posted by Mr P.J.LAKHAPATE

Sub: Excellent article

Dear Swapan, That was an excellent piece. The very fact that Mr. Manmohan chose to be silent in the meeting of CPP where Sonia arrogated ...

Posted by prakash


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