Critical political judgments await decisions

Dr.Manmohan Singh was my Oxford contemporary. He was a research student and I was the undergraduate. Those who know the Oxford academic traditions know the distinction. Dr.Jagadish Bhagawathy was also a contemporary. Prof.Amartya Sen was at Trinity, Cambridge and in fact I knew Sen more intimately as my Santiniketan acquaintance. I once went to Cambridge to specially see Sen.

Now what is the point I want to make? I too studied economics under men like Sir John Hicks, one of the early winners of the Nobel. The point is that economists, more so the Indian economists are, yes, quite brilliant, Sen won the Nobel, Dressing is the Prime Minister but not in the league of great economists like Lord Keynes or such greats like Joseph Schumpeter or Alfred von Hayek or Gunner Myrdal. They made impacts on their times. They advised their governments, took responsibility in governments and thus shaped practical economic policy. Singh ha d been in government service all his life and Prime Minister’s post also had come more as an extension of the government job.

It is here the trouble starts. After the initial euphoria he or his government has to face certain crucial political decisions. One is of course the Supreme Court judegement on the dissolution of the Bihar Assembly as “unconstitutional”. This is a serious development and a development that could destablise the government. President Abdul Kalam, in his mid-term, after three years in office in a cost sort of way is caught in a dilemma. What will be the outcome? No one can say. Fali Nariman, the eminent jurist, had carefully worded his comments and it looks the Constitution, more than any legal aspect, goes by what the public largely perceives as being just. Is the action just? The question will be asked and decided.

The Prime Minister as head of the government bears the brunt of responsibility for what the Cabinet had decided. Of course, the Bihar Governor’s position has become untenable.
Of course, it is plain these three high Constitutional offices are directed by the political forces, the political currents and there are powerful political leaders behind reaching a conclusion to dissolve the Bihar Assembly. The three names that make the rounds in the media comments are Sonia Gandhi, President of the Congress party, the leading coalition partner, then Lalu Yadav, the man whose has a direct stake in Bihar and surely he must have been the one to have pushed for such a discussion. One more name if Prakash Karat, the CPI (M) leader. One doesn’t know how much role he played.

Are these the only three names or individuals who just have pushed for such a decision with such fatal consequences? Not fully. There must have been others, surely there is a Law Minister who enjoys the confidence of Sonia Gandhi and there could be others who are either Cabinet Ministers or who are political associates of Mrs.Gandhi.

Whatever be the truth, the heads that would go are theirs. It is the Constitutional heads who bears the brunt of any political decisions that is for any wrong or ill-conceived or badly motivated political actions.

As I write there is the question of a change of guard in Jammu and Kashmir where the PDP Chief Minister’s terms ends and the Congress had to take charge. The party is in a dilemma as the party is not a favourite in the valley, the National Conference won more percentage of votes than the PDP and only last came the Congress in the 2002 elections. The emerging political questions raise the basic question of political legitimacy. Anybody can be installed as the PM or the President or the Law Minister. But when big issues like the present one comes up, the leaders whose political or mass base is zero are made victims and also exposes the political system to ridicule. Political legitimacy comes only when the leader is elected duly. Also the persons who come to hold high political and Constitutional offices must have a fair share of public service.,

Now, after the return of the UPA government we see, yes, political stability, in a way. But the political stability is becoming a political liability. The very many critical political decisions, the very thrust areas have remained only on paper.

A recent article in the Fortune magazine on India highlights what is now widely seen as Vajpayee government biggest achievement. The Golden Quadrilateral highways are called a “miracle”. So too Delhi metro is called a great achievement. In the months and years the Singh government had been in power what can be termed as it great achievement? Employment guarantee scheme? Yet, it hasn’t yet got off the ground. Agriculture? It is a patent failure so far. Yes, in foreign affairs we have scored some significant progress forward.
But our economic scenario where we expected Singh to unlease his blueprint for fast economic growth. FDI? Not much action.

Are the people more upbeat under this government? No indicators. The Congress party hadn’t gained anything by being in power at the Centre. In UP, Bihar, MP or Rajasthan, Orissa, West Bengal, Kerala and TN, the party is simply nowhere!

So, what sort of criteria we can attribute to the Singh government performance? Now, the question is how long this government can go on as if nothing had happened to the government after the Supreme Court judgment. Seeing how the government is nowhere in the picture when J&K government changeover is debated and it is largely conducted outside the sphere of the government and at the 10 Janpath quarters. Not even the AICC is involved. It is a typical coterie of low-calibre group; most of the members of this group are a set of typical defectors. As Bhuta Singh personifies this defection Congress culture, others around the Party President are no less defectors who have been rewarded. It looks Indian politicians, more so the Congress politicians would never want to learn from the past. There is national vision nor party loyalty nor a basic faith in the Congress values. All seem to be working on the principle, “I survive, you survive” and so long the party lasts, that is okey! Most politicians who came after Nehru, except Indira Gandhi, had had only a short run. All these ex-Prime Ministers were by and large much more competent men than Dr.Singh in terms of political savvy and their own political credibility.

So, if by any mishap or other Dr.Singh goes, let us hope not, the Indian political landscape is such that no one would shed tears for a good man. In politics good or bad men often don’t matter. It is what he or she gets achieved when in office. And it is the most sagacious men like Lal Bhahadur Shastri whose words or deeds are remembered ,not those who act on behalf of other behind the scene operators.

Anyway, men like Kalam and Singh, the non-politicians playing politics seem to be facing their acid tests only from now onwards.

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