The events of the last few days, with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at the centre of a controversy that threatened to cause a deep divide between the government and the party, have doubtlessly damaged the Cabinet system of government and undermined the already diminished authority of the Prime Minister.
Evidently the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family has gained in the bargain because the cause that he espoused has strong public support, but his way of opposing the controversial ordinance reinforced fears of his lack of maturity.
Clearly, however, the Congress stands diminished. If ever there was doubt in anyone’s mind that the Sonia-Rahul duo calls the shots while the economics professor who was catapulted to the position of head of government is only a supplicant who can be pushed around at will, that should have been laid to rest by the manner in which Dr Manmohan Singh swallowed his pride.
Rahul himself has been honest enough to admit that his outburst over the Representation of the People (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance 2013, when he stormed into a Press Club meeting in New Delhi and declared the ordinance was “complete nonsense”, was excessive but what the episode has shown is that the entire Cabinet comes to nothing when the crown prince raises his voice.
That is a dangerous state of affairs in a system of governance wherein the mother-son duo have untrammelled authority not given to them by the Constitution but by the extreme mentality of subservience of their partymen. If tomorrow Rahul comes to power and becomes a tyrant fed on a diet of sycophancy, it would be no surprise if he goes berserk in decision-making. This is particularly so because Rahul is intrinsically upstartish and immature.
Had Manmohan Singh stepped down in deference to the party’s pro-Rahul mood, the government’s dignity and prestige could have been salvaged, but when the Prime Minister declared strongly that he would not quit and became party to the withdrawal of an ordinance that had been passed by his entire Cabinet without so much as an open protest over why Rahul had kept quiet all that while, the conclusion was inescapable that, as critics so often contend, Dr Singh has lowered the status of the high office that he holds.
The BJP’s dilemma is that it had not stood with civil society as it should have when the Bill on the same subject seeking to rescue convicted members of Parliament from disqualification was brought forth.
For some of its leaders to now claim credit for the killing of the Bill is odd because, quite honestly, had Rahul not made the unseemly outburst and had the Prime Minister and his Cabinet not capitulated in the manner they did out of a culture of sycophancy, the ordinance would have gone through.
Clearly, whatever be the public posturing, relations between the party and the government in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections will perhaps never be the same again.
The seeming cohesiveness with which the two wings worked may well be a thing of the past.
The effect that this episode has had on relations between Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh was evident from the body language of the two when they failed to even smile at each other as they sat a few feet apart in the ritualistic exercise of paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat on October 2.
As for the BJP, which has got a major boost after Narendra Modi was declared its prime ministerial candidate, Rahul’s new-found assertiveness is a thing to watch out for.