Absentee PM

The revelations in two books released in the last few days about the working of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) under Manmohan Singh confirm what is already known. 

One is written by the prime minister’s press advisor during the UPA I years and the other by a retired bureaucrat.
 
Both had seen the functioning of the government from close quarters  and their revelations have posed serious questions about the relationship between the government and the party, the functioning of ministers in relation to the prime minister and how decisions were taken on important issues of state.
 
They have lowered the stature of the prime minister and his office.
 
Much of what has been detailed relate to the way the PMO functioned during the UPA I term but there is no need for another account to show that the unhealthy trends only strengthened later. 
 
The basic thrust of the revelations is that the prime minister was being remote-controlled by the party, headed by Sonia Gandhi, on policy matters and on details of administration, and that he had no control even on some of his ministers and their decisions.
 
In effect, he was reduced to the status of a figurehead who only reigned but did not rule.
 
This effectively undermined the cabinet system of government where the prime minister is supreme.

The circumstances of Manmohan Singh’s elevation to his office do not justify his abdication of real power in favour of centres outside the government, which  remain extra-constitutional in a real and legal sense.

The relationship between the party and government is complex in a parliamentary democracy. 
 
But the oath of office and the demands of constitutional government give the Prime Minster responsibilities and powers which unfortunately do not seem to have been taken seriously or respected.
 
Much of the lack of governance and the huge cases of corruption which are now haunting the UPA government could be attributed to this situation.
 
The compulsions of coalition politics is a poor excuse.

The prime minister may be known as a person untainted by corruption but that does not absolve him of responsibility for the damage he did to the system.

He is guilty of not asserting the power and authority of his office and allowing it to be usurped.

The motives of the writers and the timing of the revelations have been questioned, but it is not relevant in the face of their substance which cannot be seriously contested.
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