When Manmohan Singh first appeared on the Indian political scene in the early 1990s and took charge of a faltering economy, he displayed a vision, grit and skill rarely seen in India.
He gave the economy a new thrust and direction. 'Inspector raj', which had stifled growth and led to corruption at lower levels, was shown the door. Singh became king. However, the exit of 'inspector raj' resulted in the onset of 'secretary-minister raj'.
While crony capitalism and the secretary-minister class flourished, alongside expanded the middle class, and the poverty line moved down a bit. Momentum of that growth was frequently stymied, partly due to gyrations in the world economy and more frequently due to procedural hassles of the government's own making.
During the UPA-2 regime, which began in 2009, inertia and policy paralysis set in, resulting in economic downturn. While the GDP (gross domestic product) growth hovered around 5%, corruption in government gained a new high. Alongside this, the centre of power and policy formulation shifted more and more into the hands of the 'higher command.'
Cabinet ministers looked increasingly towards the 'higher command' for direction, undermining the position of the Prime Minister. Policy formulations emanated from the National Advisory Council rather than from the cabinet. In the case of Coalgate, the allotment of coal blocks was made by the ministry based on chits emanating from certain power centres, often without the knowledge of the coal minister (in this case, the PM). Gradually, the PM's authority diminished and he became a cartoonist's delight.
Undeniably, Singh is not even a lightweight politician, but once in that august chair, he cannot possibly cede even an inch of authority inherent in that post. Unfortunately, he has repeatedly retreated and never come to a point where he could say, "enough is enough."
He had been against giving extension to bureaucrats, but the latter, instead of seeking extension, have been creating permanent establishments; on retirement, they get into these newly-created jobs, where tenures often extend from five to 10 years. A weekly magazine has called it 'The Revenge of the Babus.' The magazine goes on to list innumerable permanent regulatory authorities which have been created to rehabilitate most of the retiring babus.
Even in the Central Pay Commission, babus gave themselves, most scandalously, what is called, non-functional upgradation. In simple terms, it translates into every one, at the very minimum, ending up in the additional secretary's pay bracket, even when there may be no equivalent post (s). There are more than 50 class-A services whose officers fall in this category.
So you might find that the officer in your next-door post office draws the same pay as a three-star general, or the forest officer, who may have been left with no forests, draws the pay and consequently pension of an additional secretary to the union government. In all this loot of the treasury and rampant corruption which has engulfed the national scene, the PM has been a mute spectator.
It was left to the Congress vice-president (Rahul Gandhi) to pull the rug from under the PM's feet, just when the latter was to confabulate with the US President and strike a friendly note with the Pakistan PM. The ordinance, overturning the decision of the country's highest court, was drawn after careful consideration and reflected the collective wisdom of the party, cabinet committee and the PM.
Could this august body not sense the mood of the nation while drafting the ordinance! How did this young man, after a long slumber, suddenly surface during a press briefing being held by a spokesperson of the party, extolling the virtues of this very ordinance, decide to rubbish it.
His choice of words apart, one may want to know as to how and when did he discern the sense of the national mood and this sense dawn on him! After all, it's the very nation which has repeatedly sent criminals to Parliament and state assemblies. Could he (Rahul) not have displayed some maturity and put forward his point of view in a dignified manner to the PM, once he was back in the country?
There could possibly be no more crude and disparaging way to undermine the position of the cabinet, but more so that of the PM. Once it became apparent that the President was not going to sign this ordinance, the situation had to be retrieved, but the method could have been less clumsy.
No matter how one may view these past developments and the sordid drama, the point is that Singh is no king.