The call for Rahul Gandhi to be named prime minister is a continuation of the efforts to undermine Dr Manmohan Singh that started with the ouster of foreign minister Natwar Singh and had ended, till recently, with the scuttling of the Indo-Us nuclear deal. By Prem Shankar Jha
Jayanthi Natarajan's lofty declaration that ''there is no vacancy for the post of prime minister'' and that ''The UPA government, the prime minister and his team have put in a magnificent record of performance-oriented achievement'' may have been intended to halt the groundswell of demand that has arisen in the Congress party that Rahul Gandhi be named the next prime minister of India now.
But to those familiar with the workings of this sycophantic party, it sounds like the reference certificate that a housewife gives to a servant before she throws him out. That the 'servant' in question is none other than Dr Manmohan Singh, the actual prime minister of India, shows how lightly the party takes its task of governing the people and safeguarding the future of the country. For by this single stroke, the party has turned him, and the UPA government, into a lame duck administration that will mark time till the next elections.
The ball was set rolling by the superannuated but ever ambitious Arjun Singh when he proposed Rahul as PM on 12 April. This is not the the first time that Singh has set the cat among the pigeons. In the last four years he has paid scant heed to the prime minister or the collective responsibility of the cabinet and has attacked the autonomy of the Indian Institutes of Management, and announced a reservation of seats in the private sector educational institutions off his own bat, leaving it to an embarrassed government to pick up the pieces behind him.
But neither of these actions has dented his position in the Congress or the favour he enjoys with Sonia Gandhi. So is he an enfant terrible or Sonia Gandhi's stalking horse?
If he acted on his own, then why did it take the Congress high command three days to react to his suggestion after he went public? And why did the 'denial' have to be read out by a mid-level party functionary on behalf of, note, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi? If Sonia really respected the prime minister, or if she only wished to prevent the undermining of his constitutional position, could she not have reacted immediately to shut her party up?
Third, Natarajan's choice of the word 'vacancy', is revealing, for it means that the groundswell in the party is for getting rid of Dr Manmohan Singh and replacing him with the supposedly charismatic Rahul Gandhi now, before the next general election. In short Dr Singh is not really the prime minister, only the regent who looked after the government till the ruler was ready to ascend the throne.
Natarajan's announcement therefore turned Dr Singh into a lame duck prime minister.
But the process began long ago. The first erosion of his position as the head of government occurred when Mrs Gandhi, repudiating Dr Singh's initial support for foreign minister Natwar Singh by refusing even to hear his explanation of what happened when he headed a Congress delegation to Baghdad, and literally threw him to the wolves over the Volcker commission allegations.
Natwar Singh's downfall was orchestrated with carefully timed and selective information leaks to the media from within the Congress party, for which no one was ever taken to task.
Mrs Gandhi revealed her hand once again when she overturned the prime minister's choice of former foreign secretary Shyam Saran for the post of secretary general of the Commonwealth secretariat. But her most blatant, and destructive intervention was the scuttling of the Indo-US Nuclear deal.
At the Hindustan Times Conclave which followed shortly after Dr Singh had asserted that the deal would go though no matter what the Left decided to do, she lost no time in siding with the Left and throwing Dr Singh to the wolves also. She made sure that another 'senior' politician Pranab Mukherjee, became the chairman of the coordination committee.
Mukherjee has since then drawn out the negotiation process till the deal has died. Is it any surprise then that he too is among the most vociferous supporters of Rahul Gandhi as PM ?
While Dr Singh's prime ministership was being undermined, the grooming of Rahul Gandhi was proceeding apace. His mother vacated her own constituency to make sure that he got into Parliament in 2004. He was virtually made the Congress' icon in the UP state elections in 2007, and when this did not prevent the party's vote from sliding down by another half a per cent, he was rewarded by being made a general secretary of the Congress party in September.
Since then he has intervened once to push the NREGS to the whole of India and given his maiden speech in Parliament asking for an even larger farm loan waiver.
Some idea of what the battle of the sycophants has done to the power and prestige of Dr Singh's government may be had from what union home minister Shivraj Patil had to say on a TV interview by Karan Thapar, a few weeks ago. Reminded that Dr Singh had called the Maoist-Naxalite upsurge the most serious threat that India faced, Patil said, ''That was the prime minister's personal opinion.'' He did not agree with it. So much for collective responsibility, let alone competence.
And as if all this were not enough, it is populist pressure from inside the Congress that is forcing a cabinet that contains some of the best economists in the country, to fight cost-push inflation 'at any cost' by crushing demand through high interest rates. India's future is thus being systematically sacrificed just so that the Congress can stay in power a little longer and get re-elected.
The irony of this is that unless it is prepared to make Mayavati the next prime minister, it is almost certain to lose the next election. The Greeks coined a word for this - retribution.