June 17, 2005

Sonia Gandhi is nixing the PM's authority, or so it appears.

1. Why she had to take a charter Plane instead of commercially availabel plane
2. She has misused ececutive previlege .
3. Foreign Minister Natwar Singh cancelled attendance at G-77 . Is he providing escort service to Sonia Gandhi ?
4. According to protocol, the Prime Minister can only see off the President, vice-president, or visiting foreign dignitary, usually not less than head of government. So what was he doing at the airport when Sonia was leaving?

Plane trouble

Sonia Gandhi is nixing the PM's authority, or so it appears.


16 June 2005: If the two Ambani brothers, Mukesh and Anil, had not been fighting one another so much, Sonia Gandhi perhaps may have been spared the embarrassment of her use of a Reliance Bombardier jet on a trip to Russia, which was splashed all over the papers. It was infernal bad luck for her that the brothers are at each other's neck, because the leak of the story came from one of them, but whoever hired or ordered the aircraft to carry her also did not appreciate the full consequences of it, and they will sting the ruling UPA coalition for a long time.

It is good that the Congress treasurer, Motilal Vora, clarified an advance of Rs 12 lakh was paid to Reliance, and one hopes this is true, because it makes the case a little less black against Sonia and the party. The party can argue that requisitioning an IAF plane was out of question, since Sonia is not entitled to it, and only the Reliance Bombardier fitted the requirements of a long journey, but it still does not answer the question, why did she have to charter any aircraft, if it was not commercially available? Why couldn't she have taken a commercial flight for an essentially private visit to Russia?

The argument that she is not in the government does not hold, because one, she is a public servant, by virtue of being an MP, two, she holds a cabinet minister's rank as chairperson of the UPA's coordination committee, and three, she is president of the Congress, the principal ruling party in the Central coalition government. There is a straightforward case of conflict of interest here. She cannot be associated with or appear to be taking favours of any industrial house, including Reliance. Like Caesar's wife, to use the hated expression, she must be above suspicion. Paid or unpaid, the use of the Reliance Bombardier constitutes a misuse of executive privilege, in a fair reading of executive privilege as applies to her.

The second issue is the foreign minister, Natwar Singh, providing a manner of escort service to her. Natwar apparently cancelled attendance at a G-77 meeting in Doha to accompany Sonia to Russia. This is unacceptable in itself, and generally. The Congress party says that he went with her in her capacity as UPA chairperson, but this does not stand scrutiny. Neither is her visit to Russia official, as it cannot be, and she holds no obvious position in government. She is not in the Union Cabinet, and being de facto prime minister is not the same as being sworn to that job. What official business has Natwar Singh conducted or had planned to conduct in Russia accompanying Sonia Gandhi? There are a lot of trip wires on Sonia's Russia visit, and nothing that the Congress party says or does will explain or justify them. They are plainly unjustifiable.

The last concerns prime minister Manmohan Singh seeing her off to Moscow, at the dead hour of three am, in a bizarre and spectacular breach of protocol. According to protocol, the PM can only see off the President, vice-president, or visiting foreign dignitary, usually not less than head of government. So what was he doing at the airport when Sonia was leaving?

The UPA chairperson argument does not wash, because as one holding a cabinet minister's rank, she comes far below him in the order of precedence, indeed nowhere in comparison. The PM's aides say Manmohan Singh can break protocol, but it is not for him to make or break it. The protocol attaches to his office, to his position, giving it preeminence as head of the government. If Manmohan Singh does not care to be a "prisoner" of protocol, as his aides say, he is free to quit, but the protocol is not for him to breach. Imagine the true horror of a prime minister, the head of government, going to see off his party president. How much more should the prime minister's office be devalued?

It is bad enough that Sonia is considered the power behind the throne, the ultimate arbiter of government policy, at whose pleasure the ministers remain. It is an open secret that Manmohan Singh is not at liberty to hire and fire his ministers. Much as he wants to reshuffle some ministers and drop others, an awaited and hotly-discussed cabinet change last week did not materialise.

And now, we have Mani Shankar Aiyar, the petroleum minister, making extraordinary statements on the doomed Iran-India-Pakistan gas pipeline project in relation to the US, our strategic partner. Mani Aiyar said he was unfazed by the US opposition to the project. "I am unfazed," he said, "especially because my friend and Cambridge college mate, Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri, had given a befitting reply in Washington."

What is this Mani Aiyar is running? A college debating society? Why cannot somebody gag him?

All this crumbling of cabinet governance, and the erosion of the prime minister's authority (Intelligence, "PM angry at being ignored by ministers," 13 June 2005), falls into a pattern of systems breakdown. At a camp of young Congress MPs, JNU professors were teaching them how to oppose the BJP. Weren't service rules breached in doing so? For the commissioning of India's largest and super-sensitive naval base, INS Kadamba, in Karwar, defence minister Pranab Mukherjee took along Sonia Gandhi. It is a small mercy that she herself did not inaugurate the naval base as planned.

It is easy but at the same time escapist to blame Manmohan Singh for not standing up and hope for the UPA to end his misery by collapsing from its internal contradictions, but a weak Centre is in no one's interest. And it is the Centre which is growing weak by the daily erosion of the PM's power. The UPA chairperson should realise that she is growingly seen as the one responsible for nixing the PM's authority. Much as her advisors may spin, it brings her no credit, and all the blame.


Anonymous said...

Muslims to get reservation for the first time

Surf 'N' Earn -Sign innow
HYDERABAD: Andhra Pradesh on Friday became the first state to announce sweeping across-the-board reservations for Muslim by fixing a 5 per cent quota of government jobs and seats in schools and colleges for the minority community.

An ordinance bringing the new quota system into effect will be promulgated immediately.

The Cabinet on Friday accepted the recommendation of AP Commission for Backward Classes for the five per cent quota and said it would be under a new category called E, and will be in addition to the 25 per cent of seats reserved for A, B, C and D categories of backward classes.

Information and public relations minister Md Ali Shabbir told reporters after the Cabinet meeting that ministers had decided to apply creamy layer formula followed by the Centre -- in case of Backward Class reservation -- to Muslims here.

This would be in accordance with the direction of the high court, which wanted creamy layer among Muslims to be separated before providing reservation.

In some states Muslims get quota protection in jobs and education but not because of their religion.



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