Dynastic Democracy Is Above Government And Law
The dynastic democracy nudged out the bill for ordinance, negating the Supreme Court’s decision that anyone who gets convicted for more than three years would lose all his political positions like membership of Parliament. The bill was approved by the Core Committee of the Union Cabinet, of which Sonia Gandhi is also a member and then approved unanimously by the Cabinet. It was then sent to the President for his seal of approval. Both the meetings were presided over by Dr Manmohan Singh.
Apparently, the attempt was to save the ally Lalu Prasad Yadav. The judgement in the 1000-crore fodder scam, in which he, former Chief Minister Jagannath Mishra and 42 others were charged, was to come on September 30. The ordinance would have saved him from the ban, in case the judgment convicted Yadav.
But then a devastating political tremor of at least nine on the Richter scale hit Delhi, when Rahul Gandhi, the Crown Prince, arrived (gate-crashed) at the press conference being held by Ajay Maken. He was trying to sell the ordinance. Maken’s praise of the Prime Minister and other ministers and of Sonia Gandhi–which is compulsory for Congressmen of any stature–in conceiving the ordinance was cut short when Rahul ,after giving the royal command to Maken that he would be joining the press conference, arrived, exchanged seats with Maken and then pulling the mike towards himself he threw the ‘bomb’.
He said the ordinance was nonsense and should be torn into pieces and thrown away. Up till then, Maken was singing praises for the ordinance and the conceivers of it. The buzz and excitement in the media persons was natural. Why did Rahul use undiplomatic and crude language? He did not have to be so abrasive.
He knew the bill for the ordinance was first approved by the Core Committee of the Cabinet, of which his mother too was a member and then the Cabinet adopted it and sent the bill for the seal of approval by the President. But, he seemed to be in a hurry. Possibly, Rahul was pre-empting the embarrassment for the government and the party, which the two would have felt if the President, to whom the ordinance bill has been sent for approval, sent it back.
The tremors of the Rahul bomb caused the perfect scenario in Washington for Dr Manmohan Singh to break into splinters. In fact, the setting was so perfect. In the sunny Washington, Dr Manmohan Singh was preparing to meet President Barack Obama and needed all the backing of his people for authority and credibility to negotiate with the US President.
Rahul was aware that Dr Singh was in Washington and was about to meet President Obama. In the terminology of the Congress leaders, the Prime Minister’s position while abroad was being undermined by Rahul with the criticism of the ordinance. But no criticism of the dynasty is ever made by any Congressman, however strong he might be. So instead of criticising Rahul, ministers and other leaders changed their colour like a chameleon and started condemning the ordinance. The ministers were the same who had consented to the ordinance bill in the Cabinet. But loyalty to the party’s royal family is more crucial than one’s own conscience.
A deeply dented Dr Singh issued a meek statement that he would discuss the ordinance in view of Rahul’s criticism at a Cabinet meet on his return to Delhi. A Prime Minister who holds his office on the pleasure of Sonia Gandhi had no guts to upbraid Rahul and tell him to leave matters of policy and state to him and the government. As usual, Dr Singh bent backwards to dynasty’s wishes. We all knew what the fate of the ordinance would be.
On his return to Delhi, Dr Singh said he would be calling the Core Committee meeting after discussing with “Shri Rahul Gandhiji” what discomfited him about the ordinance. Then he said a Cabinet meet would be called and after that he would meet the President in the evening.
AT A GLANCE
- The ordinance bill awaited approval by the President.
- Rahul Gandhi throws a bomb by saying at a press conference that the Bill is nonsense, should be torn in pieces and thrown.
- His bomb splinters the authority and credibility of the Prime Minister who was in Washington awaiting meeting with the US President.
- Undermining the credibility of Dr Singh while he was abroad was reprehensible
- Sonia Gandhi tells Dr Singh the whole Party was with him. Was it lip service?
- On the Gandhi Jayanti during the Prayer meeting at the Gandhi Samadhi, Sonia and Dr Singh sat separately and did not talk. Speculation about Dr Sing’s resignation gains momentum.
- Dr Singh sets at rest the rumour that he would resign.
- In fact he met Rahul and probably agreed with him.
- The Bill is withdrawn and Rahul wins making both Dr Singh and the UPA to surrender.
- Lalu Yadav and Rasheed Masood are the first to lose their seat in Parliament.
Sharad Pawar objected to the withdrawal of the bill saying what transpired between the Congress Party and Rahul Gandhi was a personal issue between the two, it did not concern the allies. Rumours also floated that Dr Singh might resign when he met the President but not much credence was given to it. The speculation was set at rest when Dr Singh unashamedly issued a denial saying there was no reason for resignation. After all, the blow to his authority was by the crown prince under whom Dr Singh had declared he was ready to work. So he strides along, riding his official seven series BMW.
The Core Committee and the Cabinet met, Sharad Pawar and other allies fell in line, and the bill was withdrawn. It was also to withdraw it from the Standing Committee. The crown prince’s edict made Dr Singh and the UPA to bow down and surrender. This is why one says India has dynastic democracy.
The two–Lalu Yadav and Rasheed Masood–have partially lost their Parliament’s seat to the Prince’s intervention. But larger questions remain. Vice-president Rahul Gandhi is known as a strong supporter of wider consultations on key issues. But then Gandhi’s ambushing the ordinance on convicted lawmakers took his party and the people by surprise as no one had any hint of his move to publicly tear out a cabinet decision.
Did the decision Rahul took was by himself alone? There is a feeling that Sonia knew about it, in fact she was reportedly the one who gave Rahul the go-ahead nod to denounce the ordinance. It was a politically expedient move. The momentum was building up during the past weeks. Insiders said that Gandhi was gathering feedback from key aides, activists and legal experts on the adverse effect the ordinance might have on poll-bound Congress that already faces a series of corruption charges.
The President was reported to be reluctant to approve the bill in haste. He reportedly was consulting jurists and constitutional experts. Ultimately, it is said he was to refer the matter to the Supreme Court. Three senior ministers who met him were allegedly told by the President that he would approve only after the response from the apex court. Sonia and her aides realised that in all probability he would return the bill saying that it violated the Constitution. So to pre-empt the embarrassment Sonia possibly told Rahul to denounce the ordinance. This way the Cabinet was given the option of a re-think and withdraw its proposal for the ordinance.
Only after this that Milind Deora criticised the ordinance. The stage was set for Rahul Gandhi for the final denouement. And he did that in his own style.
But the stage was being set for Rahul’s denouement. A strategist in the Delhi Congress also issued a statement saying that he felt the ordinance to protect convicted lawmakers was bound to have a severe impact in the upcoming assembly poll. Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit was among the first top Congress leaders to openly criticise the ordinance.
The other question, of moral value, is should Dr Singh have resigned? This should have been the correct thing to do. His authority had been challenged and he should have stepped down. Or the PM could have disagreed with Rahul and shown the guts to reject his views on the ordinance! Sanjay Baru, former Press Advisor to the Prime Minister, had called him to resign immediately after Rahul’s criticism of the ordinance. But instead of doing that Dr Singh phoned Sonia Gandhi who told him that she and the entire Congress Party was behind him. She obviously does not want to lose him at this moment when the Party’s fortunes are uncertain. The wisdom of a leader is to keep an eye as to what happens next. The ordinance chapter is closed now. For Dr Singh, it is business as usual! These are the fall-outs of India’s dynastic democracy.
By Vijay Dutt