There is a saying in Tamil which means: A younger person should seek and follow advice from an older person. He should not give advice to an older person.
2. If I am well-informed, I am three years younger than our Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh. It will normally be inappropriate and presumptuous on my part to seek to give advice to Dr.Manmohan Singh.
3. Yet, despite my being younger to him, I am a right-thinking citizen of this country who had faithfully served the Governments of Madhya Pradesh and India for 32 years. I have had the privilege of being a public servant under two distinguished Chief Ministers of MP---both from Congress--- and six Prime Ministers. Of these six Prime Ministers three ---Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and P.V.Narasimha Rao --- were from the Congress and the other three--- Morarji Desai, V.P.Singh and Chandrasekhar—were from the Congress too, but had drifted to the opposition because of their unhappiness with the state of affairs in the Congress.
4. On the basis of whatever little experience and limited insights I had acquired during my three decades plus public service, I have come to certain assessments regarding the ground realities confronting the Prime Minister and the Congress President Mrs.Sonia Gandhi. I do feel I have a right and an obligation as a citizen of this country to share my assessments with the Prime Minister and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and the public even at the risk of being considered gratuitous.
5.MY ASSESSMENT NO.1: Even if the Government and the Congress are sincere in their determination to have the Lokpal Bill passed in the Budget session of the Parliament, they will not be able to do so without the co-operation of the opposition which controls the Rajya Sabha. The kind of difficulties that the Government faced in the Rajya Sabha on December 29,2011, in getting the Bill as approved by the Lok Sabha on December 27 passed is not going to disappear as a result of the abrupt and unstatesmanlike adjournment of the House on December 29.
6.MY ASSESSMENT NO.2: The Government faced an embarrassment in the Lok Sabha because of its failure to secure the required two-thirds support for the Constitution Amendment Bill that sought to give a constitutional status to the proposed Lokpal . The Government faced another embarrassment in the upper House because of its failure to get even the Lokpal Bill, as approved by the Lok Sabha, passed. An intelligent and sincere political leadership with its feet firmly in the ground and with a keen sense of anticipation, would have tried to pre-empt the kind of difficulties that it faced in the two Houses by entering into consultations with all political parties represented in the two Houses and reaching an all-party consensus. The Government did not do so before the Bills were taken up for consideration in the two Houses and even at 6 PM on December 29 when it became evident that 187 amendments had been tabled in the RS and the Government did not have the time to have them vetted. The Government did not take either the Chairman of the House or the opposition parties into confidence and informed the House only at 11-45 PM---15 minutes before the mandatory adjournment--- that it had received 187 amendments and hence was not in a position to complete their scrutiny. The failure of the Government and the floor managers of the Congress to take the House into confidence is bound to be seen as part of a deliberate strategy to create an alibi for not having the Bill passed in the Upper House.
7. MY ASSESSMENT No.3: The credibility of the Government and the Congress has been considerably damaged in the eyes of large sections of the public due to what many felt was a pre-planned political charade in the House. No amount of ex-post-facto explanations and accusations by senior Congress leaders seeking to blame the BJP for the embarrassment faced by the Government would convince these sections of the public that the Government was telling them the truth. Before December 29, there was public anger over the failure of the Government to take effective action against corruption. An additional anger and poison have been injected into the political atmosphere by the games that the Government was believed to be playing in order to create an alibi for itself for the failure of the Constitution Amendment Bill and the Lokpal Bill.
8.MY ASSESSMENT No.4: The only way the credibility of the Government and the Congress could have been salvaged was by the Government and the Congress showing some signs of penitence for the events of December 29 in order to soothen the anger of the public and the opposition parties. Only Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mrs.Sonia Gandhi were in a position to rise to the occasion and to handle the sequel in a statesmanlike manner even belatedly --- by interacting robustly with the opposition and the media, particularly the electronic media. Instead of doing so, both exhibited an unfortunate siege mentality and have avoided all interactions either with the opposition or the media or both. The interactions of other Ministers and Congress leaders with the media would not carry conviction with the people. Only the assumption of direct leadership in an extremely embarrassing situation by Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi might have retrieved the situation. They did not do so. Instead, they went into their fort, locked the doors and let their subalterns defend the fort.
9. MY ASSESSMENT No.5 Unless the Government and the Congress admit at least to themselves if not to the public their mishandling of the passage of two important Bills brought forward under public pressure --- particularly pressure from GenNext--- and take corrective action, one can say farewell to hopes of setting up an effective anti-corruption infrastructure.
10. MY ASSESSMENT No 6: The entire episode showed dramatically not only the total lack of political judgement and management, but also the total lack of understanding of the need to keep the public informed continuously of the Government’s position through interactions of the Prime Minister and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi with influential sections of the media. Both the Prime Minister and Mrs.Sonia Gandhi have shown not only an unfortunate media shyness, but also public shyness and avoided direct interactions with the public and the media on important policy initiatives and affairs of State. It is time for them to rid themselves of the siege mentality and start interacting directly and vigorously with the media and the opposition instead of all the time trying to create alibis for their sins of commission and omission. ( 1-1-2012)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter : @SORBONNE75 )