Two Swords in One Scabbard
Posted on 1-October-2013
This is an admittedly clumsy translation of part of a Hindi proverb which means that there cannot ever be two swords in one scabbard. Yet this is precisely the kind of impossibility that the Indian government has been trying to live with for the last nine years and a little more and every once in a while one of the two swords has to make room for the other. The tragedy is that the sword that should legitimately be in the scabbard--the sword that should be doing the fighting--gets thrown out and be exposed to the elements and rust and corrode, and the sword that should not really be a sword is protected from the elements, lying securely in the scabbard. The two swords in this analogy are the Government of India and the leadership of the Indian National Congress--which really is a mother and a son and their retainers. Whenever the interests of the Congress leadership are threatened by some action of the Government, it is the Government which is ruthlessly made to submit to the authority of the leadership of the Congress.
In the eternal farce that is known as current politics in India, the latest example of the leadership of the Congress making the Indian Government look extremely foolish, surpasses all previous instances in rudeness, ill manners and poor taste displayed by leaders of the Indian National Congress, even though the rising star of the main political party in opposition is fast catching up. But in this latest case of Congress rudeness, this is how the story goes. In the month of July, the Supreme Court of India delivered two judgments, both amounting to an interpretation of the law regulating the election of members of the federal and state parliaments. The first of these judgments meant that if a sitting member of parliament was convicted and sentenced to more than two years in prison he would immediately lose his seat rather than be allowed to sit in parliament till he completed the extremely slow moving process of appeals through high courts and then the Supreme Court of India. The second of these meant that any person who had been convicted or taken into police custody for a crime for which the punishment was two or more years in jail would be disqualified from standing in an election in India. Most people fed up with seeing indicted criminals or even convicted criminals free on bail while their appeals went through the slow grinder of the Indian legal system sitting in parliaments as their representatives, welcomed these two judgments, some with mild demurrals about the second of these two judgments. The government proposed legislation to nullify the effects of these two judgments. In August, the main opposition political party appeared supportive of the government and a draft law was sent to a committee of the federal parliament for detailed discussion and scrutiny. The federal parliament went into recess thereafter, making it impossible for the parliament to make that draft into law before the end of the present year. But it was feared that if nothing was done, one of the most vociferous supporters of the Indian National Congress, leading a political party which lends support to the government in parliament at a time when the government rests precariously on the uncertain support of a number of allies and quasi-allies, might at the end of the month be convicted in a criminal case and be sentenced to a longish term in jail. He would under the Supreme Court judgment lose his seat in parliament. On 24th of September the highest decision making body in India, the federal cabinet sent up the draft of an ordinance--a decree that is--to the President of India for his approval. This ordinance like the proposed law would have nullified the effect of the Supreme Court judgments. The public reacted with dismay and the President's media managers let it be known that he also demurred. The leadership of the Indian National Congress, sensing the mood of the country, decided to make a volte face, even though it had fully approved both the draft of the law and the draft of the ordinance. On 27th September, the son of the mother in the mother son duo made a supposedly surprise appearance at a press conference where a Congress spokesman was talking to pressmen in defence of the ordinance and interrupting the spokesman said that the ordinance was nonsensical and that it should be torn and and thrown into the dustbin. To everyone who was observing it was clear that the mother son duo had decided that the son should make a dramatic appearance as the defender of probity in public life. That in doing so he was unmindful of the fact that he was publicly undermining the authority of the government did not seem to matter.
That Rahul Gandhi did not worry much about such niceties as propriety in public behaviour should not be a matter of surprise to any close observer of the great Indian farce. There are stories told privately in Delhi about Rahul Gandhi directly giving instructions to Government ministers and civil servants. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi not only runs her own parallel cabinet known as the National Advisory Council and presses upon the government those policies that she thinks will enhance her public image but also tells the government, whenever she wishes, which person should be appointed to a certain position. For the last nine years, the government has quietly accepted the diktat of the leadership of the Indian National Congress. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has by word and action repeatedly expressed his willingness to submit to the authority of the party leadership. That this arrangement is contrary to the practice followed in other democratic societies has not disturbed the intelligentsia of the country (see The Ways of the Indian National Congress). But on general principle, in a democracy, people chosen to run the government should be answerable to a parliament and to the people at large. The present arrangement where the leadership of the Congress party is there to take all the credit when there is credit to be taken and to quietly melt into the background whenever the government is under fire is unethical. And if in the present circumstances when the room in the scabbard gets too constricting, it is the government sword that gets thrown out to face the hot air and the moisture, it is because, barring two or three exceptions, Manmohan Singh has not asserted his authority. Another member of the Indian National Congress became Prime Minister of India in 1991 because Mrs. Sonia Gandhi said she did not want that job and once he became Prime Minister he made quite clear that he was in charge. He gave political cover for the much vaunted economic reforms of which Manmohan Singh says he was the architect--or he is happy when he is described as such. Manmohan Singh has proved another old rule of politics wrong: kings do not remain for long under the tutelage of kingmakers. He should not be surprised when a brash, ill-mannered person called Rahul Gandhi takes such liberties.
The strength of the Indian National Congress and its allies in the Indian parliament is such that Mrs. Sonia Gandhi or her son can become prime minister whenever they wish. They should step up, one of them, and take the responsibility and be fully accountable. Or else they should confine themselves to running their political party and leave the business of government to the government that is accountable to the people of India. If this does not happen, the people of India should see the wisdom of the proverb about two swords in one scabbard and reject the arrangement for running India that has been in place since May 2004.
Note to the Imaginary Reader
Vidushaka is taking a three month holiday. Barring the unforeseen he will be back on 1st. Februarry 2014.