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Home > India > News > Columnists > T V R Shenoy

Dr Singh is nothing but a mukhauta!

May 09, 2008

The Opposition says the prime minister should sack Union Shipping Minister T R Baalu. OK, that is not going to happen.

The Union HRD minister said Rahul Gandhi [Images] should be considered for the prime ministership. This might well happen. And, believe it or not, it could also be just about the only way that peccant ministers could be booted.

Why, someone may ask, can't the current prime minister tell his shipping minister to shape up or ship out? The question is best answered by looking at the circumstances under which T R Baalu took that portfolio, in 2004.

The shipping ministry was offered to Chandrashekhar Rao, the leader of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti. (Why Dr Manmohan Singh [Images] wanted to offer it to a leader from land-bound Telangana is something that only he knows.)

The DMK threw a hissy fit, with all its ministers refusing to attend office. The farce did not end until Sonia Gandhi [Images] intervened; Chandrashekhar Rao gracefully withdrew, and T R Baalu took over the shipping portfolio.

The point is that Dr Manmohan Singh is a prime minister without a mandate. Every minister in the Union Cabinet knows perfectly well that he answers to Sonia Gandhi, or to a combination of his own party boss and Sonia Gandhi. To repeat a famous gibe from the Vajpayee era, poor Manmohan Singh is nothing but a mukhauta!

Now, whether we like it or not, India needs a prime minister who commands respect. If Sonia Gandhi is indeed firm in ruling herself out, then, realistically, the only effective prime minister under today's circumstances is Rahul Gandhi. A cascade of events going back at least to 1969 has thrown up a generation, possibly even two, of Congressmen that are mere aides to the Congress's First Family.

If Sonia Gandhi is firm in spurning the prime ministership, who does that leave but Rahul Gandhi? I do not say I like it, I merely state the logic of events as I see them.

The imbroglio over the nuclear deal is a prime example of why it does not pay to have a weak man living in Race Course Road. Forget about the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left Front, the fact is that Dr Manmohan Singh could never be sure whether his own party backed him.

The reason is that no Congressman sees any benefit in listening to a man that could not get himself elected to the Lok Sabha.

One might argue that there are other candidates for the prime ministership, persons who possess a degree of political understanding. But I doubt if Sonia Gandhi will commit the same error that she did in 1991, when P V Narasimha Rao was permitted to step into the assassinated Rajiv Gandhi's shoes.

Rao was a politician in his own right, a former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh and home minister of India. As soon as both the prime ministership and the presidency of the Congress rested in his hand, Narasimha Rao began the process of cutting the Nehru-Gandhis to size.

There was a telling incident in 1995 that demonstrated to Sonia Gandhi just how much she had lost ground. Arjun Singh [Images] and N D Tiwari were threatening to split the party, a bid to topple Narasimha Rao; they persuaded Sonia Gandhi to call Rao, who simply brushed her off. Following the five lean years of the Narasimha Rao era, it is very hard to see Sonia Gandhi once again handing over the reins of the party to an 'outsider'.

I repeat: Who does that leave but Rahul Gandhi? (Congressmen are conservative enough that they would always prefer the son to the daughter, no matter how charismatic Priyanka Vadra might be.)

I admit it sounds weird but following the dynastic principle just might be the most democratic thing the Congress could do! L K Advani has already been made the National Democratic Alliance's standard-bearer for the next general election. It would be good for democracy should the United Progressive Alliance follow suit, stating openly that Rahul Gandhi is the chosen one.

There has been a lot of tosh spoken about how it is more democratic in a parliamentary system to let the elected MPs decide. This is silly on two counts. First, even parliamentary democracies now take care to announce the nominee for prime ministership, as in, say, Britain or in Germany [Images].

Second, it is more democratic, not less, to let the voters have their say rather than party bosses sitting and negotiating behind closed doors.

The ongoing campaign in Karnataka shows worrying signs that the Congress is shrinking even farther back from true democracy. If the BJP wins, there is a clear candidate for the chief ministership, B S Yeddyurappa. But who is the Congress candidate, S M Krishna, Veerappa Moily, or a dark horse like Dharam Singh once again?

Rahul Gandhi has said he finds the tag of 'Yuvaraj' to be insulting. He is right, but there is an enormous difference between having the prime ministership thrust upon one and going out and actually winning votes from the people. Or does anyone believe for a moment that T R Baalu cares two hoots for a man without a mandate who happens to be living in Race Course Road by sheer accident?

T V R Shenoy