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'Dear PM, I salute your integrity, wish you had asserted your authority'

Sandeep Shastri |

Updated: May 15, 2014, 2:29 PM IST
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'Dear PM, I salute your integrity, wish you had asserted your authority'
How one wishes that you did not have to maintain a stony silence when you saw all that political mess caused by unethical actions going on around you.

An open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who has been the face of the government for the last 10 years.

15 May 2014

As you prepare to demit office two days from now, an eventful decade as the Head of government would come to an end. Many of us would recall the events of the 11th of May 2004 (day of counting in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections) when, as the day progressed it became increasingly clear we would have a Congress led government. As Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, you too would have watched with keen interest the developments of the day. Eleven days later, after swift paced political developments with many a twist and turn, the nation saw you sworn in as the Prime Minister of India.

As an academic, I was proud that the country was being led by an intellectual par excellence. A few years before you became Prime Minister, you had come to the Institution I then worked in (Bangalore University) to deliver the Convocation Address. I was privileged to be given the responsibility of escorting you around during your stay at Bangalore.

I vividly remember your soft spoken nature, humility, eagerness to know more about the University, interest in the research work I was involved with. Colleagues at the University did mention that you enquired about the research work they were undertaking when you were introduced to them, prior to the Convocation. Many of us who witnessed the oath taking ceremony on television, were delighted that the leadership of government was in your hands.

The challenges that you faced when taking over as Prime Minister were only too visible. Like a few Prime Ministers in the past, you were not a member of the Lok Sabha. This of course was a serious constraint, in asserting ones influence over the political process.

Many were surprised when in 2009, you did not contest the Lok Sabha elections and remained in the Rajya Sabha. Having been Prime Minister for five years, 2009 provided a wonderful opportunity to win a direct election and return as Prime Minister being a Lok Sabha member. The party President had formally announced you as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the party and many would have seen the natural corollary to that being your contesting the Lok Sabha elections. Or maybe not!

The fact of 'two power centres' required you to be in the Upper House. A Prime Minister directly elected would have automatically a greater claim to political legitimacy and power, which is not too comfortable an arrangement when there are 'two power centres'.

Prime Minister Sir, not only was there the constraint of two power centres, there was also the compulsions of managing a coalition. The UPA was a new experiment and the Congress party had been used to managing power without having to deal with the pulls and pressures of alliance partners. During your first term, it looked as if there was a neat division of responsibility: the party President would handle all the complicated political questions of managing the coalition partners and you would focus on running the administration and overseeing policy implementation.

Many extolled the virtues of this power sharing. With time it became clear that neither could such a neat division ever work nor was it possibly intended to be that way. One can quite understand your dilemma. As Chair of the Cabinet, you had to deal with your own party Ministers who were more sensitive to political cues from the party leadership. Further, you had Cabinet Minister from among the allies who thought their party leaders where the only ones they were accountable to! There were flashes of a quite assertiveness (Nuclear Deal) but those were rare, many hoped that they would have been more frequent.

When you assumed office the second time around, many observers thought that you would take full advantage of the mandate. You were a key face in the 2009 campaign.

'Singh is King' was a slogan frequently heard.

As the scams started tumbling out of the cupboard, one thought that as Prime Minister you would be more assertive. You had rightly set very high standards of integrity for yourself. As a natural consequence, we expected you to take a firm stand and send a clear message. We sadly, had to keep waiting. We then realized that it was not just about a 'dual centre' of power but of multiple centres if power. Your body language clearly showed your discomfort but your silence also explained the range of compulsions you faced.

As a student, I had learnt of an important Theory of Perception of Power: 'the power that the observer thinks that the observed has, is directly proportionate to the distance between the two'. As one watched your second term in office, one realized that one was often a victim of ones own helplessness.

Prime Minister Sir, the 'ordinance tearing' episode involving your party Vice President was, I think an important turning point. One wishes you had resigned on your return from abroad.

Your interaction with the press on the flight back, showed how pained you where with your party Vice President's actions. The manner in which you said that you would ask him what prompted that response, spoke volumes. From that day on, it looked as if you were simply going through the motions and awaiting the end of the term. The 'ordinance tearing' episode, was a clear challenge to the authority of the government by the leadership of the party.

However, much one may marshal a defence, it was patently and beyond a shadow of doubt an indefensible action. It looks as if in the interests of party unity and to avoid any embarrassment to the party, you preferred to remain silent and continue in office.

Prime Minister Sir, one salutes you for your patience, geniality, civility and sobriety. But Sir, 'Yeh Dil Maange More'. How one wishes that you did not have to maintain a stony silence when you saw all that political mess caused by unethical actions going on around you. How one wishes, that the constraints of a process does not force well meaning people to apply self restraint. How one wishes, that in exceptional special circumstances when one occupies a position of authority, one would stand up to be counted.

I salute your personal integrity. I only wish you had asserted your authority when things started going wrong around you. Prime Minister Sir, as you demit office, we do hope you will use your free time to write your memoirs and allow the public to know the pulls and pressures of holding a high office.

Wishing you a long and healthy life after retirement from active politics.

Sandeep Shastri
Pro Vice Chancellor, Jain University, Jakkasandra Post, Kanakapura Taluk, Ramnagara Dist, Bangalore, India

(The author wishes to state that the above views are his personal views and does not represent the opinion of the institutions he is associated with.)

First Published: May 15, 2014, 2:29 PM IST
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