Interference sans responsibility

Jayanthi Natarajan’s explosive letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, with its stunning revelations about Rahul Gandhi’s interference in the functioning of the Union Environment Ministry when she headed it, only underscores what was long known in party circles. As heir apparent, Mr. Gandhi would sporadically interfere in policy decisions depending on his particular pet belief at a particular point in time. Worse, the positions he took were often inconsistent. As > Ms. Natarajan points out in her letter, Mr. Gandhi’s espousal of the interests of tribals and fisherfolk was soon superseded by his advocacy of industry: at a FICCI meeting, shortly after she was sacked as Minister, he complained about delays in environmental clearances (something Ms. Natarajan implies happened because of his interference), and promised there would be no further bottlenecks. If, from time to time, there were whispers in the party about similar > interventions by Mr. Gandhi, the one that played out in front of television cameras was in September 2013, when he tore up a controversial ordinance on convicted lawmakers, as well as the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill that sought to replace it. Five days later, the Union Cabinet withdrew the ordinance, but not before it had deeply > embarrassed the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.

Differences on policy issues exist in all political parties and governments: the proper way is to settle these issues through internal debate, a practice the Congress abandoned long ago. In UPA-I, in Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council the Congress created an institution through which the social welfare dimension could be introduced into governance: Dr. Singh did not always agree with the NAC’s formulations, but through a process of discussion, a via media would be found — as in the > Food Security Act. But in the case of Mr. Gandhi, there was always great anxiety amongst his minders to ensure that he got the credit for any governmental or party success, sometimes with comic effect. Towards the end of UPA-I, after the government had already decided to > expand the coverage of the MGNREGS to the entire country, Mr. Gandhi took a delegation to the Prime Minister to press him to do it! The key problem for the Congress has been that while Mr. Gandhi was repeatedly entreated to join the government in a Ministry of his choice, he stayed away, saying he preferred to build the party. The uncharitable view in the party was that ministerial responsibility would have brought in its wake accountability, anathema to the heir apparent. Today, Mr. Gandhi’s spin doctors may question Ms. Natarajan’s timing, but if he does not draw the right lessons from her > dramatic exit from the Congress, there could be more departures.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 12:11:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/interference-sans-responsibility/article6839853.ece

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