July 12, 2015 4:57:08 pm
The Monsoon Session will start soon. The government enters its second year. The Prime Minister is engaged on a hectic tour programme to secure contact with as many of India’s neighbours and friends as he can. In this field, he retains his uniqueness. No previous prime minister has made foreign relations such a large and constant part of their schedule.
But of course, his troubles are at home. In one sense, the high expectations held at this time last year have become more realistic. Indeed, as often happens, people are overdoing the downward revision of expectations. Growth is highest for five years and probably higher than China’s. Inflation is spectacularly low. The exchange rate has not moved much. Digital India has been launched.
The earlier worry about rainfall has eased and the sad plight of farmers is now a thing of the past. It would be nice if the RBI cut interest rates more but the direction is surely downwards.
Even so, it seems not as good as it is. The shine of economic good news has been dimmed by political news. If one were to listen to the TV panels, Narendra Modi has been silent and inactive. Why has he not sacked Sushma Swaraj, Vasundhara Raje and Shivraj Singh Chouhan? The shrill voices are certain they have declared the three guilty. Why is there no instant justice?
There are several reasons why not. For one thing, such sackings are routine in the Congress culture of centralised, indeed personalised control from the top, which people have been used to. From the time when Mahatma Gandhi took the party over in 1920, the Congress has sacked leaders, no matter how powerful or how popularly elected. Gandhiji squeezed Subhash Bose out regardless of the support for him among the delegates and pushed Jawaharlal Nehru ahead of Sardar Patel in 1946 despite an overwhelming majority of Provincial Congress Committees voting for Patel. Later, Nehru muscled out Purushottam Das Tandon from presidency of the party and ignored J B Kripalani’s strictures about the prime minister’s duty to consult the party. Things remained much the same with Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. Sonia Gandhi sacked Ashok Chavan summarily from chief ministership of Maharashtra and imposed Prithviraj Chavan, though that did not help the party win the election.
The BJP is not like the Congress. Power is diffused among different people depending on their popular regional base, their equation with the RSS and the preferences of the rank and file. Before the last election, there was a sort of subtle informal primary race between different leaders for the top spot. There were several contenders — Advani, Gadkari, Rajnath Singh, Chouhan. Narendra Modi emerged winner because of the rank and file support and his RSS credentials.
But while he inspires awe and devotion among his Cabinet colleagues, his power is limited. He could no more sack Raje than Atal Bihari Vajpayee could sack him back in 2002.
Modi may also not wish to sack Raje or Chouhan. This is because he respects regional leaders’ autonomy more than Congress leadership would. He is genuinely a federalist. He believes in granting states almost equal status with the Centre. He is also aware that no due process has been initiated about the conduct in the cases of any of the three. It would not be strictly constitutional for a prime minister to sack a chief minister who has the support of the MLAs in the party. Congress considers chief ministers fit to be treated like office boys, since the only legitimacy is bestowed by approval of the Family not the MLAs.
Modi’s silence thus is neither an evasive nor a fearful gesture. A proper procedure would be to wait till the state party moved a no-confidence motion against the leader in question. The same can be said about Swaraj. There has to be a formal investigation as to whether she had a conflict of interest. This cannot be determined by TV panels. Due process would recommend a judicial inquiry. It is unlikely however that an inquiry would be ordered. The transgression was minor. It was in acquiescing to the UK government granting travel documents to Lalit Modi. Narendra Modi understands the unimportance of being Lalit.
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