Dynastic shenanigans….

The dynasty is following a scorched-earth policy. There is still scope for limiting the damage that is likely to be attempted in the coming days before the Election Commission embargo sets in. Whether the Prime Minister or the cabinet will muster the courage to finally put their foot down is difficult to say. Clearly the time has come for the President of India to exercise his constitutional mandate and step in to limit the damage..

~ VINOD SAIGHAL

The Statesman, New Delhi (10 February 2014)

Pronouncements by the ruling party’s prime minister-in-waiting have been flying thick and fast, bestowing benefits to all and sundry from an exchequer that stands critically depleted. An example is the decision by the government after intervention of Mr. Rahul Gandhi (as per news reports) that the number of gas cylinders available at the subsidized rate should be increased from 9 to 12. There could hardly be any doubt that the concerned ministry knowing the parlous situation of the economy would have been opposed to it, as would have been the finance minister and the Prime Minister even if they chose to remain silent. After all, the extra-constitutional authority with no accountability has been running the government and for that matter the country by fiats from time to time. The question of non-conformity has almost never arisen for the simple reason that all the important ministerial appointments have been made by the UPA chairperson. They run their ministries at her sufferance. The Prime Minister falls into the same category. Even the crucial positions within the PMO are decided in the same manner.

In the remaining period till elections are announced many more sops irrespective of whether the economy can withstand further shocks are likely to be announced. In the case of the increase in subsidized gas cylinders at a cost to the exchequer of Rs 5000 crore, the Reserve Bank Governor felt impelled to come out with an uncharacteristic negative comment against the government’s decision. It is not likely to have an effect on the cavalier dynastic shenanigans.

Increasingly they seem to have abandoned the armed forces, thereby endangering national security due to critical shortages and the wellbeing of troops on the frontier facing severe winter conditions. A news item had appeared in the papers to the effect that heating oil for the troops in J&K would be reduced. Earlier while the comparatively niggardly amount required for one-rank-one-pay for the armed forces was denied, the MPLAD sum for the elected representatives was increased to Rs 5 crore. Enough has already been written as to how this fund is used or misused. That it could be a source of enrichment for many legislators can be gleaned from their affidavits filed for election. For most of them there appears to be an across-the-board increase in their wealth when compared with previous affidavits.

Not long back an announcement was made, possibly at the behest of the dynasty, that civil servants and their families could now go abroad for treatment. Provision was also made for taking along an attendant. Evidently the step was taken to keep the civil servants well-disposed towards the ruling dispensation knowing full well that notwithstanding their other attributes civil servants are not unintelligent people. The handout if implemented might not induce them to vote in their favour. That was never the aim; which was that when inquiries into the misdeeds of the people at the apex of governance take place, as they are likely to sooner or later, the highly placed babus do not give evidence against them. Several other examples can be given of wasteful expenditure that no self-respecting government or democracy would have tolerated.

Surprisingly hardly anybody in authority seriously questioned the extra-constitutional manner in which decisions that have pushed the country into a negative spiral in practically every sphere of governance were taken.

The Prime Minister, whatever his personal views, clearly opted out. So did the rest of the council of ministers and senior government functionaries; even the judiciary. The democratic decline and the body blow being delivered to the constitutional responsibilities of the government were allowed to go unchallenged for all these years. There are those who feel that in the ultimate analysis the blame could also be apportioned on the President, one of the most astute and gifted political figures to have been elevated to the highest office. Constitutional subversion and irregularities stare everyone in the face, not excluding the so-called independent media, currently having its moment of glory in the sun.

Was it not evident to all concerned that as per the Constitution important decisions are to be taken by the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers? When a thorough examination of how the UPA government has been run is carried out it is bound to emerge that many important decisions were taken by the extra-constitutional authority over the head of the government. Directions given from above were simply carried out without demur. Leave alone the UPA partners even the ministers were not kept in the picture in several cases where decisions of the government were set aside or literally flung aside. Whether well-orchestrated or simply the good-cop-bad-cop style of functioning of the dynastic scion, decisions of the government can only be overturned after the collegium that is the Council of Ministers is constituted or re-constituted and its deliberations recorded.

An independent investigation could also bring out that highly classified information that should never have left the closely guarded precincts of the government had been communicated to the extra-constitutional authority and by extension the close dynastic advisers as well. The black money case before the Supreme Court, were it to be carried through to its logical conclusion, could yet spring many horrifying surprises.

By now the writing on the wall would be clear to the dynasty and its close supporters. All the trends indicate a severe decline for the Congress. Clearly many of the sops and largesse for the ensuing weeks are not going to affect the electoral chances of the dynasty or the party significantly. Yet the shenanigans and impulsive decisions of the dynasty and its scion are likely to continue. What could be the reason for it? Unless the national interest has ceased to matter to the dynasty ~ and all economic indicators leave no doubt about the economic folly of some of these decisions ~ the strategy becomes eminently clear. The dynasty is following a scorched-earth policy. The planning just might be to leave the economy for a successor government in such a precarious condition that any meaningful attempts to bring in desired policy changes would flounder on the rock of a semi-bankrupt exchequer. The new government, whatever its hue, would not be in a position to deliver on their election manifesto. Thereby the hope is nurtured that another general election would soon follow.

There is still scope for limiting the damage that is likely to be attempted in the coming days before the Election Commission embargo sets in. Whether the Prime Minister or the cabinet will muster the courage to finally put their foot down is difficult to say. Clearly the time has come for the President of India to exercise his constitutional mandate and step in to limit the damage.

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 The writer is Convenor, MRGG, and author of Revitalising Indian Democracy

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