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As bad as it gets

As bad as it gets

Author: Tavleen Singh
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: September 19, 2011
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/as-bad-as-it-gets/848163/0

Sonia Gandhi is back. And when news spread through Delhi's newsrooms and television studios on Thursday that she would be making her first public appearance since her illness, there was a frenetic rush to 10 Janpath as if nothing was politically more important. She did not show herself but our news channels made up for this with endless shots of her car entering a gate. It was left to viewers to guess if it was her car and if she was in it.

Those Congress leaders who have seen her, report with hysterical effusiveness, that she looks remarkably healthy after her secret surgery. The goofiest performance was delivered by Renuka Chowdhury. She was among the lucky few who saw Sonia on the day she returned to Delhi and this overwhelmed her. 'She is back and she is very well. Can't you see from the happiness on my face. I am so happeee!', she said on national television, her face glistening with what appeared to be tears of joy.

If she is well, my humble request to Soniaji is that she please take charge of her government. In her absence, it has begun to fray so badly at the core that it verges on collapse. I rarely agree with anything Anna Hazare says but am forced to acknowledge that what he said about the Prime Minister, in his endless interviews from Ralegan Siddhi last week, is true. When asked why it had taken so long for the government to concede the demands he made at the start of his hunger strike he said, "There are many ministers in the Government of India who think they are prime minister. Nobody listens to the Prime Minister." He is right. And, it is on account of this disdain for the Prime Minister that Anna became the unlikely hero of urban, middle class Indians.

The simplest, most obvious, way to deal with his demand that his Lokpal Bill be discussed in Parliament was to agree immediately. If the National Advisory Council's many draft bills can be sent to the Lok Sabha's standing committee, why not this one?

If there had not been so many prime ministerial aspirants, all fighting for their fifteen minutes of fame, this would have happened in April and we could be discussing more serious things. Among these the most important is the alarming manner in which the Government of India is functioning. In Sonia's absence, two things have happened. Some ministers (all prime ministerial aspirants) appear to have become dangerously independent. They make decisions that, from all accounts, are not sanctioned by the Prime Minister and could not care less if he disapproves.

Then there is the second development. This is evident in the non-functioning of those who have no aspirations to become prime minister but want to keep their jobs as ministers in the Government of India. They do absolutely nothing. Even when the Prime Minister instructs them specifically to do something, they ignore him because they believe that they can only act when they have 'orders from the top'. By this they do not mean poor Dr Manmohan Singh.

As a result of this paralysis in some vital ministries, the economy has begun to slow down to disquieting levels. All the figures for the last quarter are bad and economic analysts say they are likely to get worse. When annual growth drops to 6 per cent (very possible), the same middle classes who believe Anna is the answer to all India's problems may discover that there are issues more important than corruption.

What a historical irony that the man who gave us the economic reforms, that led to the boom of the past twenty years, is now presiding over the demise of the reform process. If anything has proved that this is entirely because the institution of the Prime Minister's office has been diminished to the point of superfluity, it is Sonia Gandhi's recent absence. Without her at the helm, the Government of India came to such a disturbing pass that people in Delhi's political circles started expressing serious fears about what would happen if we faced a crisis more serious than Anna Hazare. We do. There are indications that jihadi terrorism is back and neither policing nor intelligence gathering has improved sufficiently since 26/11. If it had the first bomb that exploded outside the Delhi High Court in May would, at the very least, have been taken more seriously.

Terrorism is only one of the urgent problems we face. They cannot be attended to without a leader who is accountable and visibly so. Sonia Gandhi's month long absence has more than proved that she is the only person that this government pays heed to. If she is well enough, she should take personal charge or find a new proxy before things get worse.

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