PM & PMO
amba charan vashishth
The Supreme Court of India, while indicting the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on 31 January, 2012 for an inordinate delay in taking a decision on the representation filed by Janata Party president Dr Subramaniam Swamy seeking sanction to prosecute the then telecom minister Mr A Raja, was very condescending to Prime Minister Mr Manmohan Singh though it stopped short of censuring him. The SC said: “If the Prime Minister had been apprised of the factual and legal position regarding the representation made by Swamy, he would have surely taken appropriate decision and would not have allowed the matter to linger (on) for a period of more than one year.” It also said: “By the very nature of the office held by the Prime Minister, he was not expected to personally look into minute details of each case placed before him and has to depend on his advisers and other officers.”
Yet, the point is: whose office is the PMO? If it is of the Prime Minister run by his officials and advisers, the Prime Minister should be in full control and should have the final word. This should make him squarely responsible for everything ~ right or wrong ~ happening in the PMO. Despite the SC being lenient with the Prime Minister, it is a fact that Mr Singh had dragged his feet far too long about taking a decision on Mr Swamy’s petition and he cannot shirk his responsibility just because the country’s topmost court has let him off lightly. Otherwise, it would be like blaming the grandparents and not the parents for spoiling the child.
The PMO is manned by persons handpicked by the PM who enjoy his full confidence. Naturally, they cannot have a professional identity independent of him and be not answerable to the PM. The petition to the PM had not been made by just anybody but Mr Swamy, who is the chief of a national party. Also, the petition did not pertain to a minion in any ministry but a senior Cabinet colleague of the PM. It was, therefore, incumbent upon the PM to take the matter seriously. He should have made his officials come up in the shortest possible time with full facts, legal position and precedents, including relevant court judgments, to arrive at a well-considered decision after applying his mind. It was his responsibility, and his alone, to have done so and not that of the babus. Since the matter concerned a senior Cabinet colleague, the Prime Minister should have been all the more prompt.
It is now common knowledge that our political leaders, even those holding official positions, employ writers to formulate their speeches. Even if the speech has been outsourced, it is the person that reads it who that receives bouquets or brickbats. If such a speech invites penal action, it is not the speechwriter who is taken to task but the person who read it out. One needs to understand that each lawmaker in this country holding an important public office, such as the PM, chief ministers and their ministers, has a number of advisers, including secretary-level bureaucrats and other hand-picked consultants to assist him/her. In addition, they have the option to consult the law ministry on any issue. The PM or a minister is not bound by the advice provided by bureaucrats and reserves his unbridled right to apply his mind to arrive at an independent decision after considering all points of view. A Prime Minister is considered a “primus inter pares” ~ first among equals ~ yet he has the prerogative to differ with his ministers and the right to reject their advice.
Authority rests with the person who takes the decisions and not with his advisers because ultimately, the line of responsibility deems that how it should be. The current UPA government has mastered the art of snatching the credit for anything that has gone well and starting a blame game for all that goes wrong. The fact remains that till the eve of the country’s comptroller and auditor-general (CAG) presenting its report on the 2G spectrum scam, the PM and Congress president Mrs Sonia Gandhi had been shielding Mr A Raja. Only a few days after Mr Raja’s resignation, at a CAG conference, the PM called upon the CAG to distinguish between “wrongdoing” and “genuine errors”. Mr Manmohan Singh had also tried to wriggle out of his liability arising out of allowing untold scams to be perpetrated under his nose by citing “coalition dharma”.
Perhaps it will not be out of context to recall that Lal Bahadur Shastri resigned as the country’s railway minister in 1956 owning moral responsibility for a railway accident in Tamil Nadu that had caused 144 deaths despite Shastri not driving the train at the time. Surely, even PM understands that the question is not of legality but of morality.
(The writer is a Delhi-based political analyst and commentator)
Published in on February 22, 2012