Saturday, 9 August 2014

Andar ki Baat, Accidental P M and Dynastic Politics

Andar ki Baat, The Accidental P M and The Dynasty

K. Natwar Singh’s forthcoming autobiography One Life is Not Enough has blown a storm in Congress politics. In 2004, United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by Congress, which won a majority in the Elections to Lok Sabha of the Indian Parliament, was about to form the Government. Sonia Gandhi, as the leader of Congress Party, was set to become the Prime Minister. Yet, she anointed Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister, saying that her “inner voice” called her to “sacrifice” the offer. Natwar Singh says that it was no ‘inner voice’ but fear of assassination, albeit in the mind of son Rahul, who had seen the assassination of grandmother Indira and father Rajiv, was the real cause of the ‘sacrifice’. This brings to my mind the punch-line of an old advertisement for men’s inner-wear: Yeh andar ki baat.

Soon after being sworn in as P M, Manmohan Singh promptly and loyally appointed a National Advisory Council, headed by – who else – Sonia Gandhi to ‘advise’ the Government on policy-matters. In his recently-published-book, The Accidental Prime Minister, Sanjay Baru, P.M’s Press Advisor during 2004-09, says that Manmohan Singh became the P.M. by ‘accident’. The book describes how real power was wielded by Sonia Gandhi and how an officer of the Indian Administrative Service was assigned the work of carrying all important files to Sonia Gandhi, before any decision was cleared by Manmohan Singh. Natwar Singh’s book confirms this.

What Sanjay Baru and Natwar Singh have written, was widely believed and more or less known in the grapevine of politics at that time. The only new information is the name of the IAS officer who used to carry the files to Sonia. During its first term, UPA was ruling with the support of Communist Party of India (Marxist) -CPM. The CPM was blocking some of UPA’s policy-initiatives. The joke in circulation at that time was that there were 3 PMs: PM Manmohan Singh, CPM and SPM. The last term referred to ‘Super Prime Minister’ Sonia Gandhi.

At a Press Conference, Natwar Singh has revealed that Sonia Gandhi along with daughter Priyanka went to his house, so many years after dumping him, to plead with him not to reveal the real reason for her opting out of becoming PM.

In his book, Natwar Singh has described how Sonia Gandhi evolved from being a diffident, nervous and shy woman to an ambitious, authoritarian and stern leader.

Sonia Gandhi’s displeasure strikes fear among Congressmen and women. She uses silence as a weapon and her every subtle gesture is a message; an icy stare, a warning. It is common knowledge how a stern look from her sends a shiver down the spine of Congressmen and women.

It may be of interest here to recollect that at that time, Sushma Swaraj had declared that she would shave off the hair on her head if Sonia Gandhi, originally an Italian citizen, became the Prime Minister of India. It may be another matter of interest here that only original citizens of U S A can contest for election as President.      

However, Natwar Singh is no saint. In 2005, the Paul Volcker Report on corruption in the UN oil-for food programme for Iraq named Congress Party, Natawar Singh, his son Jagat and Jagat’s acquaintance as “non-contractual beneficiaries” of Iraqi oil sales in 2001. Soon thereafter, Sonia Gandhi dumped Natawar Singh.

Another book relating to the happenings during the Prime Ministership of Manmohan Singh in 2004-09 is forthcoming. It is Not Just an Accountant by Vinod Rai who recently retired as the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. It gives details of how sheer considerations of survival led Manmohan Singh to acquuiesce to decisions which caused huge loss to the country's exchequer.  

The Yuvraj 

Any discussion on Congress Party brings to mind Dynastic Politics. Years ago, when Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister of India, i had come across a cartoon by the famous R K Laxman. In it, Prince Charles of U K and Rajiv Gandhi were seen in conversation. Prince Charles is seen as telling Rajiv Gandhi, “Like you, i shall succeed my mother.”  U K is a hereditary monarchy.

Dynastic politics in India was started by Indira Gandhi. After gaining unbridled control over Congress Party, she groomed her younger son Sanjay to become the P M after her. After his death in an aircraft crash, she pulled the reluctant elder son Rajiv, then an Indian Airlines pilot, into politics and groomed him as her successor.

Jawaharlal Nehru never planned daughter Indira as his successor. During his advancing years, when he was asked whether she would be the P M after him, he replied, “Indu? No. Perhaps, later.”

It was Mayavati, once the Chief Minister of U. P. and the leader of Bahujan Samaj Party, who derisively referred to Rahul Gandhi as ‘Yuvraj’ (the heir apparent). Critics of Congress Party call the Nehru-Gandhi family ‘The Dynasty’ and ‘The Family’. A few years after Indira Gandhi Gandhi brought in Dynastic Politics, a few leaders in States started their own ‘dynasty’. Prominent among them is M. Karunanidhi Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, whose son is now the Deputy C.M. Bal Thackerey’s son Uddhab has succeeded him as head of Shiv Sena. Mulayam Singh’s son Akhilesh has succeeded him. Much before that, Sheikh Abdullah was succeeded by Farooq Abdullah as C.M. of Jammu Kasmir. His son Omar has succeeded him. Biju Pattanaik’s son has become Chief Minister of Odisha. However, Biju Pattanaik never planned this. After his death, his followers brought Naveen into politics. Many Members of Parliament and of State Legislative Assemblies all over India have brought in their wives/children/nephews into politics.

Is Dynastic politics bad? What are its strengths and weaknesses?

In a party led by a dynastic leader, the leader is more secure against defection. There is more stability. However, dynastic parties block new talent. No matter how capable and talented a politician from outside the family is, he/she can never occupy the highest position in the party. The moment a person in a junior rung shows capability, his wings are clipped as the dynastic leader feels threatened. In Congress Party, the top three positions are ‘reserved’. No one else can aspire to take the position of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul or Priyanka.

As Kanchan Chandra, Professor of Politics at New York University says, dynastic MPs and MLAs are more likely to have College Degrees and less likely to have criminal back ground.

It may be argued that in many cases, doctors’ children become doctors and lawyers’ children become lawyers. However, here it must be remembered that there are prescribed and clear qualifications to become a doctor or a lawyer. A doctor or lawyer may help her/his child to acquire these qualifications but family-connection does not substitute these as it is often found in dynastic politics. And, doctors and lawyers do not have followers; they have patients/clients.

My question to the members of Congress Party remains: Can’t the 129-year old party throw up a leader, instead of looking up, to The Family? Does it not pinch the dignity of every Congressman/woman? Do the leaders of the Party, below The Family, not trust each other or will not accept one out of them.


A subsequent revelation by Justice Markandeya Katju brought to public knowledge how Manmohan Singh gave in to pressure of 'coalition politics' to interfere in a judicial appointment. One District Judge had granted bail the DMK supremo Karunanidhi. This Judge was elevated as an Additional Judge in Madras High Court. Justice Katju as then Chief Justice of Madras High Court, wrote to the Chief Justice of India that there were allegations of bribery against this Additional Judge and suggested for an investigation by Intelligence Bureau. The investigation confirmed the charges. The Chief Justice of India recommended not to confirm this Additional Judge, who was thus to be reverted as District Judge. A DMK Minister met Manmohan Singh and told him that if this would be done, DMK would withdraw support and the Manmohan Singh's Govt. would collapse. Manmohan Singh gave in to this threat and wrote to CJI to reverse the recommendation. The CJI gave in to pressure from Govt., the Additional Judge was given an extension and was ultimately confirmed as a Judge of the High Court!  


  1. A nice take on the dynastic politics, Sir. I am not sure whether we can imagine any benefit of dynastic politics, and that too, of the likes of Congress. A man of the "caliber" of Mr. Rahul Gandhi is fit to run a playschool, not a country. However, the surprising guts of the Congress men and women to portray him as the Prime Ministerial candidate, tells us a lot about whats going inside the party. There is Female Ringmaster inside the party, and she is the one running the circus.

    Nicely written sir. You got a new follower! :)

    1. Thank you.

      Today, I read in the newspapers about the Report of the Anthony Committee on reasons for the debacle of Congress Party in the last General Elections. The report has praised the "painstaking campaign" by Sonia and Rahul and predictably given both a clean chit about the defeat. It has blamed the Government led by Dr. Manamohan Singh for the defeat!!! The poor scapegoat!

      It may be recalled here that after the death of Jawaharlal and Lal Bahadur Shastri, the senior-most Minister in the Cabinet, Guljarilal Nanda, on both the occasions, was sworn in as the Acting Prime Minister. Later, elections were conducted in Congress Parliamentary Party and Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi, respectively, were elected as Leader and then sworn in as P M. However, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi was strait away sworn in as the P M. Pranab Mukherjee was then the senior-most Minister.