It’s flexible, it’s fluid and that’s quite all right

  • Govind Talwalkar
  • Updated: May 12, 2014 22:29 IST

The much-discussed book by Sanjaya Baru, former media advisor to the prime minister, was not expected to influence voters in the elections, but one of the questions raised by him will be discussed on and off.

That point is about the centre of power — whether it lies with the prime minster or with the party president and the party?

Communists, the world over, have all the while held the party as the ultimate authority. In spite of the fact that all communist parties had changed course at various times, they believed that the party does not go wrong.

Jyoti Basu had to give up an offer by most of the non-Congress parties to be the prime minister because his party did not approve of it. But Basu saw to it that the party did not meddle in his administration of the state.

In parliamentary democracies there never was a sacrosanct rule about the centre of power. It has changed according to the individuals or the time.

When I was talking to him, Morarji Desai once referred to a Congress parliamentary party meeting, wherein Jawaharlal Nehru had moved an important resolution.

After some discussion Desai moved an amendment, which was surprisingly passed, defeating the resolution. Logically, Nehru would have resigned and Desai would have succeeded and taken over. However, Desai anticipated that it would have brought thousands of people to the Boat Club and they would have also surrounded Parliament, thus making it impossible for him to function. So he withdrew the amendment on his own.

Some BJP leaders and various other commentators have agreed with Baru, who has deplored that Manmohan Singh had played a secondary role while Sonia Gandhi had the upper hand. When the BJP was in power at the Centre, presidentship of party was reduced to a secondary level and most of the party matters were decided by AB Vajpayee and LK Advani despite the fact that they were not the party presidents.

Advani and some of his party colleagues have derided Singh for yielding to his party president. But because of their observations about Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Advani and Jaswant Singh had to prostrate before the chief of the RSS, an extra-constitutional authority. Sonia Gandhi, on the other hand, does have constitutional power.

For reducing the party to almost nullity, Indira Gandhi came under severe attack from the same critics who are now denouncing Singh.

Both Purushottam Das Tandon and Acharya Kriplani resigned as Congress president because of serious differences with Pandit Nehru. But it should be remembered that Nehru worked with several other party presidents.

There is no doubt that Singh’s position would have been politically strengthened if he had contested a Lok Sabha seat in the second term. Baru has not been blind to the achievements of Singh but political adversaries have received a boost from his book. The general impression is created that Singh all along played second fiddle. But it is a wrong assessment. He had established his authority as a successful finance minister who saved the country from bankruptcy. Because of the policy pursued by him, agriculture could get more funds and the economy, in general, got a fillip. Our foreign exchange reserves went up to an unprecedented level.

Singh succeeded in getting the United States’ support for a nuclear deal. The BJP, when in power, bent over backwards to get a nuclear deal with the US. But when Singh succeeded, it was the same party that went into an unholy and unwritten alliance with the CPI(M) and did everything possible to wreck the deal.

It is obvious that the Congress will be defeated but the chattering classes should not behave like those who are in the thick of the election campaign and say that the country is ruined. We have faced setbacks; but we are not facing irredeemable ruin.

Govind Talwalkar is a former editor of Maharashtra Times

The views expressed by the author are personal

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