Sonia Gandhi has considerably lowered the image of India

Manmohan Singh collaborated in this fall of India’s image and democratic credentials

I think it was some time in the year 1965.

I was then very much active in politics and I used to be in New Delhi off and on.
I used to be associated with Atulya Ghosh and Kamaraj at the AICC. Ghosh, the strongman of the party then, soon after Lal Bhahadur Shastri passed away suggested to Kamaraj to offer himself as the candidate for the Prime Ministership. I know this so well as I was moving closely with Ghosh, almost I was one of the members of his household, as I was introduced to him thanks to my friend, Prof.Ashish Bose, the population expert who was close to Ghosh. I was then offered an assignment by Ghosh, sometime in 1963 when he wanted the AICC to bring out a journal, with the tentative tile of “Vision”, Nehruji was very much alive and Ghosh wanted to boost his morale and the party’s image. Panditji died and our plans went away and in all the series of developments I used to be very much part of the deliberations and goings-on.

Kamaraj declined it, I know the reasons, the reasons being mainly he could speak neither English nor Hindi.

Now, looking back and also considering how Dr.Manmohan Singh is hogging the limelight I wonder what would have been the political outcome, if Kamaraj had taken up the assignment, so easily and generously offered by his close colleagues.
Dr.Singh took up the Prime Minister’s assignment, yes; it is an assignment and not a natural process of politics.

How Dr.Singh has succeeded in his “report card”?

There might be surely two very different opinions. One, for public consumption, everyone would only play safe given the  prevailing environment in New Delhi, with coalition partners having tasted power and, even I would dare say, the bullying power, given the way the allies have pushed Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh as helpless witnesses to the evolution of the coalition experience in the last four years.

Also, there will be a substantial independent opinion, even a very private opinion within the mainstream Congress ranks and independent oberservers that under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership of the party, the party has become almost non-functional. It doesn’t win elections after elections and then what the party is for?
As for the Prime Minister, he took it up knowing well that he did so without any political legitimacy.

After having taken over such a prestigious office, he hasn’t, in my own opinion, brought any particular glory to the India’s prestige and standing in the world.
This is rather disconcerting considering that in recent times there have been many new thinkers and policy experts, both foreign and domestic, who consider that India had done well in various spheres, in economics and other areas and yet, India’s standing is not what it should be.

Sonia Gandhi might have chosen Dr.Singh for his loyalty and low profile. But what about the country’s larger interests?

Certainly, under her leadership in the last 10 years, the Congress party with no proper vision or structure, has considerably declined, it has become so weak that the party is packed with people who have no grass-roots touch or any long record of service to the party. There are so many lateral entrants who, it looks, are all just time servers.

Even among the proper party heavyweights, the genuine ones are not properly rewarded and recognised. The test of selfless service to the party and the government and the country is not applied.

One wonders now whether Sonia Gandhi is serious about the party’s future, except perhaps as a sure area for her son. Otherwise, she seems to be not showing much active interest. Nor her choice of men and women are such they also don’t bother to work hard, they don’t travel, her ministers don’t travel much inside the country. The party in most traditional bastions is almost as weak as negligible or left to marauders, as in TN and Bihar where the allies almost killed the very party structures!

So, I am one of those many thousands who have been with the Indian National Congress as part of our lifestyle and yet feel so disheartened that we are living to witness further decline of the party and with it the long traditions and legacies of a united India, a nationalist India and an India that was once seen as a new road to a new civilisational millennium!

Hence I have shared herewith my anguish and my own thoughts for what can be done to save and resurrect the party and also the fundamental democratic traditions in electing the party president and the office bearers as well as electing the Prime Minister due process of internal consultations.

I was in New Delhi after a long gap. So, this time my encounters and the experiences of people in Delhi, in the government and outside, inside the party and outside gave me a totally new view of India. To give the readers and idea of where I stand in the scheme of things, I should run a quick biodata of sorts. I met Pandit Jwaharlal Nehru as a student at Santiniketan from 1955 onwards. He used to come there as  the “acharya” (the chancellor) of the Visva Bharati and as such he was a regular visitor every year and we students were able to come close to him as if it was a family affair. He was also quite accessible and he used to enjoy himself immensely in the Gurudev homely surroundings, at the “Uttarayana”, Tagore’s home then converted as the guest house and there used to be lots of singing and dances, Rabindra Sangeeth and the Tagore style dancing, there were too many gifted people, students as well as teachers, so there was no question of anything other than the best, the visitors too quite distinguished. I can recall Lady Ranu Mukerjee, Padmaja Naidu, even Krishna Menon once, of course Indira Gandhi with her sons used to be always seen and as for the great minds, I cant list them all! There were venerable figures, P.C.Mahalanobis, Amartya Sen was there and away, he was one year senior to me and already famous at Cambridge and we were all at awe about his academic recrod, as we some of us were studying economics there. There were the Chinese scholar, Prof.Tan Yun Sen, the distinguished scientist, Prof.S.N.Bose of the Einstein-Bose fame who was the vice-chancellor and as for the artists and musicians it was a veritable who’s who of the then Bengal and India.

In such a heady atmosphere I very soon became a follower of Pandit Nehru and this attachment grew as I went to Oxford and then from there I came back, first to Delhi, too meet Panditji and present myself as a full-time politician! This didn’t happen immediately, as that day Panditji was out of Delhi and I returned home to my village and things took very different shapes.

There is a series of happenings at the AICC level, with Atulya Ghosh as the treasurer and from 1063 onwards with Kamaraj as the President of the Congress Party. I was at the AICC at 7, Jantar Mantar Road during the 1967 general elections when I was in charge of the Congress party pamphlet writing for the elections.

I joined the Indian National Congress in the year 1961 as soon as I came back to India. I enrolled myself at the District Congress Committee office in Coimbatore as a four anna member! I still retain the receipt to this day!
Now, in Delhi after a very long gap, India, seen from the vantage position of the capital of India gave me a different picture.

I was clearly disheartened. The day I was in Delhi Mr.Arjun Singh staged a sort of revolt against the Congress leadership when he spoke openly with the Prime Minister in the audience and the President of India on the stage about the lack of democracy in the party, about the narrow test applied to loyalty in the party and the way decision making processes are made ect.

The Prime Minister was speechless, even helpless but he has to put in an appearance as he knew that Arjun Singh is a senior leader and also with lots of political clout. One doesn’t know whether the PM consulted the party president, Sonia Gandhi but very likely the PM must have known beforehand that the HRD minister had said some controversial things in the book or likely to say so openly on the public platform. Or, the PM, it can be surmised now, was under some compulsion to attend the meeting. Or, given his nature, he would have easily excused himself and for a PM it is a very easy way out of an obviously embarrassing situation. One doesn’t know the compulsions that brought the PM into the otherwise a blatantly purposeful outburst on the part of the HRD minister. The minister had only recently raised the issue of bringing in Rahul Gandhi as the next Prime Minister and that too knowing well that move must have surely undermined the incumbent PM’s position in the government as well as in the party. As for the President of India, it was evident, the honble lady had made it clear that she was coming there only to receive the first copy and for nothing else! So, there was advance information that the meeting was to create a controversy and the controversy was, in retrospect, aimed at some well-designed, ends.

The ends, as we can see after some time, are clear. The Congress party under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi is not delivering results. The party is losing one state after another. In all major, traditional Congress strongholds, the party had lost, the latest was Karnataka. Karnataka itself gave enough indications that Sonia Gandhi had been misled by her own Karnataka-based confidants, there are too many of them, five out of her AICC functionaries are from one Karnataka district. Either they offered her poor assessment on the ground situation or they misled her. And also, she gave room for much internal discord among the top leaders of the state Congress, as many as 12 of them were considered themselves as potential Chief Ministers.

That she made a poor judgement is evident. This and considering how she is leading the party in the neighbouring state (to which I belong and so I have much more to say than on other states) we can say with confidence Sonia Gandhi must realise that she is doing a great disservice to her responsibility as the Congress president and also as for her choice for the high Constitutional offices.
The incumbent Prime Minister may be an exceptional person in his personal qualities. Of head and heart as they say. But then, politics is politics and we have to be ruthless when it comes to making judgments when it involves holding political power and exercising the same.

Here too I have to make some personal remarks and revelations. I was a contemporary of Dr.Manmohan Singh at Oxford. I was an undergraduate at New College while he was a research scholar at Nuffield College where too I used to go to visit my tutor in monetary economics. My tutor was Hungarian, I forget his name now and on those occasions I used to sight Dr.Singh and his another colleague, Dr.Jagadish Bhagwathi. They were still not yet doctors but Bhagwathi was already making news  for his high theoretical writings  at the famous Economic Journal while even Amartya Sen used to write only brief notes in that Journal, while Manmohan Singh was nowhere on our own economic theoretical  horizon. I was speaking at the Oxford Debating Union, Labour Club, and Poetry Club, of all I joined in my first flush of enthusiasm! I also became for one term President of the Oxford Indian students association, there were about 60/70 of Indian students and in all these gatherings and meetings, and I don’t remember to have seen Manmohan Singh. There were some nationalistic-minded research scholars from UP and elsewhere and I remember some occasions when some noises were made about wearing ties etc and it was some of these research scholars who joined together with the like-minded ‘nationalistic’ students who got me elected by defeating the one who represented the more traditional Oxford-going types, the ICS/feudal/princely family-oriented ones. In fact, the one who stood against me was none other than my own dear friend from my own College, my friend to this day Mr.Ashok Thapar! Oh, dear Ashok I remember you now, you who choose to live in far off Spain! God be with you!

Now, the point is that all this titbits of information doesnt in any way diminish the great contribution Manmohanji had made for the country’s progress in so many diverse sphere.

But the point here I want to make is that my own evolution has been on a different orbit altogether.

I had gone to found a high school in my village as soon as went back from Oxford, my own landed properties, the tenancy disputes that surrounded it, then later, my own school also faced with problems from the rival rural families, village feuds could be so self-destructive, as they in fact proved themselves to be in my rivals’ cases and after my election to the then Madras Legislative Council in 1968, I also had to face political rivalry of other kinds.
To cut the story short, the Congress lost the 1967 general elections, Kamaraj himself lost to a student, and then Indira Gandhi emerged  as undisputed leader and Kamaraj and his valued colleagues, Atulya Ghosh, Moraji Desai and others all faced into obscurity. My attachment to Kamaraj was so intense, may be I was too idealistic (or innocent?)   And this led me to get more isolated and by the time Kamaraj passed away in 1976 my fortunes also plummeted.

By the time I could get out of my own problems, personal as well as public, it was some years and also the very political landscape changed.

I was in Delhi on the day Emergency was declared. I was getting down to Connaught Place pavement, from the Orient Books office where I was just then discussing literature and politics with S.K.Duggal, the Punjabi writer, and then I saw the newspaper hawker proclaiming: “Jagjivan Ram resigned!”

I was coming out of C.Subramaniam’s house and he told me then that he had been called urgently to a CWC meeting and there, he promised he might mention my name for one of the Parliamentary seats! Just I give an idea of the times in which I was moving. Sanjay Gandhi was becoming active and one by one, the venerable names were all thrown out and it was almost confusion then was prevailing in Delhi just before the Emergency. I used to see such faces, D.K.Barooah, Siddartha Shankar Ray, T.A.Pai and others.

Already the familiar faces, the faces we were familiar with were fading and now I can’t but recall only such a confusing and fast changing political times.
Now, let me come to the present day!

Yes, now Sonia Gandhi has been at the helm as the Congress party President for over ten long years. And what have we got by way of achievements?
Of course she has many things to her credit. The country has got a measure of political stability and this is no mean achievement.

The economy has   grown to respectable level. This is also a great achievement.
But then only those who know things, things from inside the party and the government know that this fast economic growth has come about not just by what Dr.Manmohan had supposedly done ,first, as the Finance Minister under Narasimha Rao and then now as Prime Minister himself.

How much credit would go to Dr.Singh and how much to Rao?

Rao, let us remember, had asserted that it was he who was the Prime Minister and Dr.Singh was just his Finance Minister!

Yes, the credit for a government’s performance goes to the head of the government, to the Prime Minister and not to one minister in a government.

This is the conventional view. Now, there is a tendency to over-play the role of Dr.Singh in running the government and only lately there is a move to assign some role for Sonia Gandhi for the political side of the government.

What I am now driving at  is the fact that over-all when we come to look at the India’s larger vision, it is to be admitted that under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Dr.,Singh in tow, we see an India whose vision and standing in the world seems somewhat diminished.

The party and the government functions removed from the people

First, let us consider the way the party and the government functions today. Sonia Gandhi was elected as president without any context. Not even a token context. Since then there is a steep decline in the party functioning. The CWC, AICC are packed with people, not through any clear process of selection or contest. The CWC, as the Cabinet, were all packed with Sonia Gandhi loyalists, very amorphously defined. AICC is top-heavy with as many as 35 secretaries and any number of others who are all loyalists and sycophants; they are there for various functions. Rahul Gandhi is now the general secretary and it is said he is acutely aware of the lack of internal democracy in the party. One hopes he addresses this problem as quickly as possible and establishes some credibility.

As things stand, as seen from close quarters, the party and the government seem to be totally immune to the goings on in the country. No one cares to reply to letters, or receive visitors or care to give the impression that the party and the government is open to new winds of change.

Barack Obama, the new Democratic face for the US Presidential elections captured the imagination of the American people by the simple slogans of “Change, Unity and Hope”.

In India, similar slogans won’t carry any weight or meaning, it seems.

With no PCCS in many states, no DCCs or any semblance of any internal elections of internal consultations, as Arjun Singh lamented, the internal consultations, if any, seem to be confined to some favoured individuals, none of the 35 secretaries, some former chief ministers, seem to have any concrete job on hand!

The visiting African National Congress (ANC) Jacob Zuma was pointedly asked how the ANC functions and whether it has the tendency to move away from the people, as the Indian National Congress does, say: “”We (ANC) is very much alive. The ANC structure would never allow a distance; the internal mechanism keeps the party very sensitive. There are specific portfolios that never allow full-timers in the party to go to the government jobs…”These words must have echoed those in the AICC, certainly Sonia Gandhi, and one hope.

From the way she is functioning so far, she gives the distinctive impression that she is either bored or doesnt care. May be she is keeping time for her son to take over.

That is of course her decision. But can a country of India’s size and reputation, with a party of 123 year history can’t go the way Sonia Gandhi wants.
The Congress party has to articulate a new vision, a new political ideology. The Left is still opportunistic and even adventurous. No less are the allies, in particular, the DMK with its separatist past and its penchant for changing parties just for the sake of sticking to power at the Centre.

So, the Congress party, in my considered view, must spell out very fundamentally in terms of its key components. Liberal democracy, open society, individual freedoms, secularism, human rights, women rights, education of girl child and a number of areas we have to do in-depth research and update our ideological base as well as our programme of action.

Under Dr.Singh we are nowhere, we seem to be everywhere, we seem to be mortally afraid of Washington and we seem to be a timid nation when it comes to even expressing our views! What sort of a great country India is?

After observing how she had succumbed to a sort of blackmail from the Left and the doubtful allies like Lalu Prasad Yadav and the DMK”s M.Karunanidhi, we can only surmise she has no interest to grow the Congress party in the states. TN and Bihar had had great Congress traditions and had seen great men and women from their ranks. Now, to let Karunanidhi dictate terms to her and more shameful, to let the DMK leader tell the local Congress men and women what to do and what not to do is perhaps the greatest insult to any Congressman. So too in Bihar. Likewise, the Left too had almost frightened her out of her wits.

They are growing, at the Congress expense. One can imagine such a development, say neither under Indira Gandhi nor even under a Lal Bhadur Shastri.
The Left  party is simply growing out of Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh incompetence. The Indo-US nuclear deal is an instance of a totally confused Sonia Gandhi who has no views on the subject and also on Manmohan Singh’s lack of stature.

The very fact he is an unelected Prime Minister is enough to make him a pigmy of a man. So, how does he expect to command any respect or loyalty from the people.
The Congress party can’t grow as it is, it has to have a structure, it has to have structures for PCCS and DCCS function as independent units. This Sonia Gandhi is unwilling to concede. Is Rahul Gandhi aware how to go about this? It looks the young Gandhi is being groomed for sudden promotion and Moily and others are assigned this job. Anyone who praises any leader skyhigh, as Moily now doing, has to be suspect to be a sycophant.

Once the Congress is unseated after the next elections, perhaps some new revolt or new winds might blow across the 24,Akbar Road windows!

As for the Prime Minister he is widely perceived to be the weakest Prime Minister. Also, he is now clearly seen as one who can’t win votes for his party. He is almost a PM on hire!

The standing of India in the world was once high and for valid reasons. Now, the stance of India on various weighty  foreign affairs seems quite timid and withdrawn.

Robert Kagan’s thesis on India, China and Russia

There have been lots of discussions and debates in recent times over  the rise of China and India. Tatas’ buy of Jaguar and Corus are seen as our rise in the world league. But it is also pointed out that the economy of India is less than half that  of Britain, while has 20 times more people, while China’s economy is worth 2.7 trillion, but has not yet reached that of Germany. India still is ranked poorly, at 128 out of 177 countries in the HDI. Recently, I read in the book by Robert Kagan, a former State Dept key official that of the  would be big powers China and Russia are still autocracies, while India may be a democracy and as democracy we can do a lot, but as Kagan notes we are nowhere may be “a disembodied call centre suspended in the global ether”. To take India seriously, we inside India have to take ourselves seriously and work towards  a new equation with the world’s other powers.

Somehow, given Dr.Singh’s lack of any vision for such grand schemes or themes, we are stuck with the rest of the world as one of the  regional powers, content to mind our business.

Unfortunately, the world doesnt behave that way. There are turmoil’s, tussles and turbulence everywhere. Wars erupt, dictators shut up freedom seekers and there is poverty, terrorism, extremisms of various kinds. Life is not so simple like a lower middle class clerk might imagine innocently. Life is rich and vibrant and powerful and the world has always been so.

So, it comes to what your vision for your country is and what you are capable of doing to realise the dream.

A leader is born out of the complex process of political challenges and responses.
What we see today, under the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh duo seems to be a transition. May be next round might bring back the fading glory of India back to a new high. I hope so. I strongly believe so.

The Prime Minister is supposed to be an expert, a learned man. Fine. But is there any instance when we have heard the PM’s specific expertise on any one key issue? Any words of wisdom? Or any new insight? He seems to be a man who has no views on any critical things, he never seemed to have had or held any specific ideological stance on any major issue.

Is her a Left or Centre man or a Right of Centre? Or, is he a free marketeer? He had worked under all Prime Ministers of all stances. That is not a charge. But a fact. So, he is what he is supposed to be. All sorts of ideological stance as you want!

That is not a sin or we hold it against Dr.Singh.

What we say is that ,given his learning and experience and wisdom, he must articulate a great many major issues that face the world. Suddenly he talks of nuclear energy and also abolition of nuclear weapons, while the world is grappling with nuclear proliferation control, dangers of nuclear material theft, the emergence of Iran, Israel’s threat  etc where India can contribute, one hoped for long, with her vigorous record for peaceful use of nuclear power and her record of good conduct etc. India must have an assertive diplomatic  initiative in these areas.

India was once listened with attention. Not any more. Pranab Mukerjee’s recent visit to China is a case in point. He was not even treated with due diplomatic  reciprocal behaviour. The same was in Russia. What sort of foreign visits by our foreign minister?

The ministers in the current Cabinet are all, most of them lightweight or unelected. So many career  lawyers who are ,it seems, only advancing their careers.

Some portfolios were allotted without any rhyme or reason. Chief Election Commission is suddenly made a minister!

Seen from the way Sonia Gandhi had nominated members to the Rajya Sabha ,we can doubt her very, commitment to any high principles or ideals. It is like treating the upper house as a household!

So too her opting for the nominees for the high Constitutional offices. She had helped to bring down the great vision and high ideals that informed our Constitutional scheme of things.

Of course, politics is the art of the possible. But can we take the current drift in values is an art of the possible?

Unless you create an open space how people will come forward to express their views? Can you run the country without tapping the best talents in the country?
Is there any connect with the new talents thrown up but ,say the IT industry and the many  achievers and the government?

Why don’t you send out these achievers as ambassadors to select countries? Why doesn’t the government call these achievers to advise the government to create more stable institutions?

No amount of schemes, however well-intended, can be sustained unless you create institutions like Amul for sustainable grwoth?

Why we don’t call such achievers?

Certainly Dr.Singh may have many qualities. He is not a leader. He is a behind the scene bureaucrat. He is not comfortable in the presence of new talents and achievers. No one is  talking of taking his or her ideas to the Prime Minister who is a learned man, a wiseman etc.

No one seems welcome, I mean outsiders!

The same seems to be the case with Sonia Gandhi.

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