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HindustanTimes Sat,22 Nov 2014
A two-handed clap
Indrajit Hazra
April 06, 2013
First Published: 23:35 IST(6/4/2013)
Last Updated: 01:37 IST(7/4/2013)

Laxmikant-Pyarelal. Bonnie and Clyde. Cheech and Chong. Sonia-Manmohan?

It would really be unthinkable to consider Laxmikant Shantaram Kudalkar composing great music for Hindi films down the decades without Pyarelal Ramprasad Sharma as his partner. It would be similarly impossible to believe that Clyde Chestnut Barrow could ever carry out all those robberies and shoot-outs without being egged on and joined by Bonnie Elizabeth Parker. And like Laurel and Hardy before them, the stoner comedy duo of Richard 'Cheech' Marin and Tommy Chong wouldn't have reached their marijuana-themed cult status if they hadn't rolled out their joint venture.

So is the howdy pardnership of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, formed in 2004 immediately after a tearful show in response to Sonia-ji's 'Great Renunciation' (read: making a strategically splendid virtue out of some shortcomings) that made tough Congress men and women blubber and weep like kids left behind in a supermarket aisle by their crackhead mothers, in the same league as the aforementioned power couples? I would certainly think so.

Your view of whether India's most famous tag team has been successful or not as Congress-UPA chief and prime minister respectively over the last nine years will depend on how you define success in a field where failure can be gift-wrapped and success be tut-tutted away. If you're one of those frenetic cheerleaders for Indian reforms - and thereby, by extension, are against elephants and how those creatures misrepresent India in 2013 - who believe that wealth creation has to be top priority, then you may have some qualms about the duo's track record till now. But if you're more inclined towards inclusive growth (CII-speak for socialism minus the Cheech and Chong economics), then the asymmetrical diarchy hasn't been great, but certainly not as bad as it could have been if IMF-walas formed a kitchen cabinet around a single power centre, however well-meaning this power centre may be.

So no one's been completely happy with the Sonia-Manmohan model. But no one's been terribly upset either.

The Congress isn't the new BlackBerry z10 with its feature that allows users to keep personal data and office work data in two separate spaces. There's a flimsy curtain between the party and the government. The curtain exists so as to allow the private corporation to become a professionally-run political party one sunny day - if, inshallah and Rahul Gandhi-willing, power is pushed down the throats of Congressmen who need to morph from being employees into  being stakeholders.

One big virtue of the Sonia-Manmohan leadership is that it's openly asymmetrical. You have Sonia Gandhi having to repeatedly announce her support for the prime minister whenever the Congress kitchen starts clamouring for Crème Rahul (so impolite, that!). I don't recall Manmohan Singh needing to make any gestures at any point of time to underline Sonia's political legitimacy.

So even as Singh may have been the one credited with pushing through the Indo-US nuclear deal, his chief achievement seems to have been convincing his 'partner' that the deal was good for India. We haven't heard much about how Sonia needed to convince the economist-PM of the need for a National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. But then, Lennon-McCartney didn't meet the press to discuss song-writing while writing songs, did they?

A dual leadership has the flavour of a good cop-bad cop set-up. So it's unsurprising that old Nehru-Gandhi family faithfuls, such as Digvijaya Singh in his role as Mani Shankar Aiyar 2.0, keep challenging this 'double' standard model. For many Congressmen, the case study of an 'outsider' holding the party reins is still Sitaram Kesri - that abominable chapter in Congress history forcibly shut only after Sonia genuinely saved the party from becoming a kirana shop by taking over as president in 1998. Although, I would reckon that even if Ruchi, Kesri's favourite pet Pomeranian, had taken over, the party would have been saved.

But to take the Kesri example as what happens if someone with a surname other than Gandhi is on top of the Congress food chain is like concluding after India's drubbing by England earlier this year that wicketkeepers should never be made captain.

I suspect the Congress is taking baby steps towards becoming more professional by still having a Ms Gandhi visible with someone on the other end of the see-saw. I also suspect that if things go hunky-dory for the UPA in 2014, a Mr Gandhi will take to the see-saw, but with a 'heavier' partner as PM on the other end. Who knows? The Congress may even move from the two-person see-saw to a one-person swing a bit more quickly.

But luckily for Digvijaya Singh and his Jimmy the Baptist prophesies, not everyone can swing on a swing without a helping hand from behind. I mean, can you imagine Tom running around without chasing Jerry?


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