When Congress president Sonia Gandhi stepped aside and paved the way for Manmohan Singh to be the PM in 2004, everyone had one question — how long will it last?
One can still debate if the absence of a single command led to governance deficit or not, but largely the functioning of the model has proved sceptics wrong.
However, the assertion of the Congress that it is a model for the future discounts the personal qualities of Gandhi and Singh that made this division of labour work.
Both in symbolism and substance, Gandhi allowed Singh space and authority. She makes it a point to meet the PM only at his residence and Singh drives to 10, Janpath, only for party working committee meetings. There has been a give-and-take between the two.
For instance, regarding the designs of the NREGA and the food security bill, Gandhi’s views prevailed; but on the question of the nuclear deal with the US, Singh managed to convince her.
Gandhi has been protective of the PM at the slightest challenge to his authority. In 2006, there were speculations of Pranb Mukherjee becoming deputy PM and the question was put to the PM at a presser.
Gandhi categorically stated that the question does not arise. When she was re-elected after resigning as MP following the office-of-profit row, Congress MP Ajit Jogi started a signature campaign demanding her to take over as the PM.
But, a party rebuttal came and he was stopped. In 2009, at the release of the party manifesto, Gandhi indicated that Singh was leading the campaign.
She initially was reluctant to head the National Advisory Council for a second time, as the previous one had led to speculations about divergence between her and the PM.
Argument that the dual power centres have caused the economic slowdown is evidently questionable — there were years of high growth under this leadership model.
That it has worked well does not necessarily make it a desirable or durable model. The viability of this model in the future will depend on the protagonists involved as it is now.