Do not weaken the PM’s office: Fotedar to Sonia

Do not weaken the PM’s office: Fotedar to Sonia

By M.L. FOTEDAR | | 25 October, 2015
With Rajiv Gandhi at Teen Murti Bhavan, preparing for Indira Gandhi’s funeral procession.
In a 2006 letter to Sonia Gandhi, the Indira and Rajiv aide, while praising her to the skies, gently pointed out what was wrong with Congress and UPA government.
 
Respected Smt. Soniaji 
Congress President, 
10 Janpath, New Delhi. 
8 June 2006 
 
You will kindly excuse me, I am writing a long letter to you.
For some sixty years now, I have been associated with the Nehru-Gandhi family. Right through, it has been an article of faith with me to tender to my leader carefully considered views and advice in a frank and forthright way, of course in strict confidence. I did so with Panditji since my student days, then with Indiraji, Rajivji and with yourself. 
Herewith I am conveying some perceptions and suggestions regarding the political situation. In connection with various aspects thereof, please undertake an exercise of introspection by yourself in solitude; consult only your children and heed your conscience. This is my earnest request. 
Today there is a crisis of sorts confronting us. The following are some of the components of the situation: 
i) the condition of the Congress Party and the morale of Congressmen 
ii) the belligerence and arrogance of the Left Parties who think the Congress must meekly comply with the terms they dictate 
iii) the confusion and the consternation of the Office of Profit Bill, heightened after the President’s message returning the Bill for reconsideration 
iv) the emerging position of the Office of the Prime Minister and the predilections of some in the Council of Ministers 
v) the question of the National Advisory Council, and the office of the Chairperson of the NAC. 
Indeed, all in all, the political atmosphere may seem daunting and volatile to most people. 
One crucial element which always needs to be fully and clearly kept in view is the perception of the masses, the people of India. Their thinking, mood, attitude and reactions to what is happening in national life; how individual leaders are conducting themselves, what is their agenda, their values and priorities; their level of commitment to the service of Nation.
The people are watching all the time... 
Indiraji taught us that in politics, as in war, it is of the essence to seize the initiative at the strategically important moment.
With Indira Gandhi at 1 Akbar Road in New Delhi in 1983.There has always been in India tremendous awe of and respect for renunciation and sacrifice—as evidence of what is valued in India as the supreme quality in a leader—selflessness and absolute commitment in the service of the Nation. This has been so since ancient times. It is the essence of the Indian psyche. Gandhiji, Panditji, Indiraji and Rajivji were taken to heart by the people of India because the people recognized their total identification with these values and concerns. You too, in the same way, won the reverence, admiration and love of the Indian people when you came to be identified by the people as representing this tradition of selflessness and spirit of service to the Nation and respect for the values of the Nation...
In 2004 following the general elections all the UPA partners wholeheartedly supported your being the Prime Minister. The Congress Parliamentary Party unanimously elected you their leader. I will not go into the details of all this. But then despite massive and persistent demands by all in the party you very politely, but equally definitely, declined the Office of the Prime Minister. 
Once again, before all, you set an example of upholding the highest standards of selflessness and commitment in service of the Nation—qualities that have been the true hallmark of the Nehru-Gandhi legacy. You agreed to shoulder the responsibilities and the burden of the office of the Chairperson of the National Advisory Council. But when a question arose about the Office of Profit and a Bill was to be brought to the Parliament, you, without hesitation, took the straight and right path—resigning your seat in Parliament and seeking re-election and also relinquishing your office as Chairperson of NAC. 
The people of Rae Bareli demonstrated their faith and confidence in you. They see you as a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family of course; as the heir and the custodian and the exemplar of the Nehru-Gandhi family’s tradition of selfless commitment in the spirit of service to the Nation.
I have recalled these facts with a purpose. These details are now part and parcel of the continuing saga of the Nehru-Gandhi family. It is a stirring history of dedication in national life. Your principled conduct and sense of propriety, your diligence and constant effort to do only that which is absolutely correct and ethical, your aversion of pomp or show, and strict adherence to personal austerity and simplicity—all these aspects are within public knowledge and are deeply valued and admired by the people. These contribute to your stature, credibility and above all to the moral authority you wield... 
At the present juncture, as I said earlier, there is a crisis in our national life. I get reports from all parts of the country—from people in different parts of life, in addition to the numerous members of the Congress Party in all the states and UTs. The feedback that is coming is serious; one may say it is disturbing. The passage of the Parliament’s Prevention of Disqualification Amendment Bill 2006 on May 16 and 17 and the circumstances connected therewith have shocked and angered the people. Not that there were many illusions in the public mind about the political class. The people are well acquainted with the unabashed hankering and craving for the ‘loaves and fishes of office’ on the part of politicians—other than a few honourable exceptions. But the passage of this Bill is being regarded as a staggering instance of manifest immorality having overtaken India’s apex political institutions. The public perception is that this legislation’s passage has shown that all parties have collaborated in drafting and making a self-serving law— ‘a Lawless Law’ designed to perpetuate enjoyment of power and pelf by some Members of Parliament from different and opposing political parties— who have with mercenary cooperation combined swiftly to rush the legislation through Parliament—without any moral or ethical compunctions being entertained even for a moment. 
In the public perception, Parliament is empowered to make laws for the public good; not to enact laws principally for the exclusive benefits for its own sitting members. The function of Parliament is not to exercise a sort of patronage to contrive to save persons from the liability and embarrassment of having fallen foul of the Law. The spectacle provided by the passing of this Bill has therefore caused disgust, dismay and anger in the public mind. 
If you are determined not to be Prime Minister and are not satisfied with the performance of the present Prime Minister you should replace him. But the choice of possible replacement is limited and I wonder whether you will like to have either Pranab Mukherjee or Arjun Singh. In case you do not, and the present PM has to continue, then it would be wise to strengthen the institution of the Prime Minister. 
In this sorry state of affairs, the saving grace is your moral and ethical image in the public eye. By adhering to the core values of the Nehru-Gandhi heritage, you followed a course of political wisdom... 
Where is the political need, let alone any compulsion, to allow exemptions under the Office of Profit Law? You do not need any prop or crutch such as the Office of the Chairperson of the National Advisory Council. You do not depend for your political status or survival on occupation of that post. Your stature is towering and independent of that. You are, after all, the President of the Indian National Congress... 
Fotedar (left) with Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi on a train to Agra in 1990.Particularly after the controversy over the Office of Profit Law and whether any liability is attracted by occupation of the Chairpersonship of the NAC you should deem it below your dignity to assume that post again and should simply shun any suggestion to become Chairperson of NAC. And you should clearly and emphatically express your aversion to getting any exemption for that post under the Office of Profit Law. If you publicly say you are not interested in becoming the Chairperson of NAC and advise the government that this post need not come under the posts exempted, the public will be enthused by your decision. They will regard you as not only a symbol of sacrifice and morality in public life but as the very epitome of selflessness and commitment in the service of the Nation. 
Your example in this respect will contribute another glorious chapter that will illuminate the golden history of the Nehru-Gandhi tradition...
As for the inter-party coordination of the National Advisory Council this can be discharged equally, if not more effectively, by you in inter-party meetings that you may convene to discuss issues with leaders of our coalition parties. 
The National Advisory Council may therefore be allowed to be rescinded. 
As for those who clamour for exemptions under the Office of Profit Law, your action would expose them to the unsparing light of public attention and scrutiny. Let the concerned worthies choose to be seen as clinging desperately to their precious Offices of Profit, craving the advantage the office confers so much as to strive to get their posts exempted by manipulating the law through political nexus and artifice. 
The left for example habitually puts on a show of moral indignation and sanctimoniousness. But they have been in the forefront, arrogantly demanding, without a sliver of moral compunction, that the exemptions should extend to posts occupied by their members. Let them choose to do so and be exposed and damned in the public eye. The left may bluster and bristle and threaten all manner of actions. 
We should call their bluff. We should plainly tell them that on a matter of moral and ethical principle we are not agreeable to violating cannons of propriety and values relevant to Constitutional governance, certainly not to cover up and immunize a select few from the liability attracted by the breach of existing law. We should tell them that if they so choose to force a general election we are well prepared morally, ethically and politically to go to the people for a verdict. The left will, as bluffs do, decide that discretion is the better part of valour. 
As for the other parties, they too will have to swallow the bitter pill. The true gainers and victors will be the people of India, whose political system will stand protected and purified by a stellar example set by the leader and President of the Congress Party. 
Incidentally the national atmosphere will be so charged with excitement over this issue that many issues such as the reservation controversy will be completely overshadowed. 
Reinvigorating government and the processes of governance is of the greatest importance now. When the government chooses to be dilatory, and allows governance to slacken, space is created for judicial activism. This was the process which gained much ground in Narasimha Rao’s time.
Indiraji taught us that in politics, as in war, it is of the essence to seize the initiative at the strategically important moment, firmly basing one’s stand on a solid moral and ethical foundation. You can do this. Already you have the aura and the proven record and the image of one who can, and will, be firm and upright. You can take a principled stand in the service of the people. 
You should resolve, boldly and courageously, to confront and fight the forces of political manipulation, greed and corruption. You must hasten to lead the way to take our great Nation forward. 
I would suggest that as Congress President you should constitute a Congress Parliamentary Board. I have told you a number of times that this CPB is the supreme authority of the party and in this board the Prime Minister is an ex-officio member. You can select and have ten members. But at this stage should have eight in all: yourself and the PM and six others, leaving two vacancies which you can fill in due course or leave unfilled so that aspirants have something to work towards and to wait for. Of the six, you may have one or two ministers who are political and some senior members of the party. 
In the Parliamentary Board in the past we used to discuss, deliberate and decide all important matters—be they political, economic or related to national security. 
In Shri Rajiv Gandhi’s time we used to have meetings of CPB even at midnight. On every important issue a decision would be taken only after deliberations in CPB. I request you to revive, strengthen and utilize the mechanism of CPB. It will prove to be of great use in proper monitoring of the government as well as the coordination of the party and management of the political affairs of the country. 
The Office of the Prime Minister is a very special institution in our polity. Its position should not be weakened. And in the public eye its prestige has to be kept intact. The natural and appropriate occupant of the Office of the Prime Minister should have been yourself—as in you subsists the centre of political gravity. If you were the Prime Minister, real political authority and moral authority would have been co-located with formal governmental authority. 
Conditions today have evolved in such a way that it is high time that you assumed the Office of Prime Minister. Your assuming the Office of PM would invigorate government and governance. There will be a new zest and vigour and stronger validity of the government. 
Your decision of staying away from the post of Prime Minister has meant that the present occupant has to deal with the moves and predilections of some of his colleagues in the Council of Ministers who do not see the Prime Minister as someone with greater political weight or experience than themselves. 
If you are determined not to be Prime Minister and are not satisfied with the performance of the present Prime Minister you should replace him. But the choice of possible replacement is limited and I wonder whether you will like to have either Pranab Mukherjee or Arjun Singh. In case you do not, and the present PM has to continue, then it would be wise to strengthen the institution of the Prime Minister. 
This can be done by optimizing the quality, calibre and experience of the members of the Council of Ministers, who essentially are the colleagues of the Prime Minister and are to assist him in the governance of the country. You should advise him directly to make any changes and give him a cabinet which in so far as its complement of Congress members is concerned represents genuinely the Congress ideology—with ministers from the Congress who are looked up to and respected by the party. 
We should not have ministers who are either corrupt or are regarded in the public perception to be corrupt. You are totally aware of the facts in this respect. 
Where is the political need, let alone any compulsion, to allow exemptions under the Office of Profit Law? You do not need any prop or crutch such as the Office of the Chairperson of the NAC. 
Purging the Council of Ministers of deadwood and tainted persons and strengthening it with persons of integrity, ability and good reputation would give a new look to the government and enhance the prestige of the government and the Congress Party. 
It is particularly important to have a Finance Minister who represents Congress ideology; a Home Minister who knows his ‘home’ and the dynamics and pulse of India as a Nation. Similarly it is of vital importance to have a Law Minister who is respected by senior echelons of the Judiciary also. 
Reinvigorating government and the processes of governance is of the greatest importance now. When the government chooses to be dilatory, and allows governance to slacken, space is created for judicial activism. This was the process which gained much ground in Shri P.V. Narasimha Rao’s time—when drift, procrastination, and abdication of authority to the judiciary was developed like a fine art. This trend should be stopped and reversed. 
Government must be the executive and must enjoy the prestige that comes from a record of good governance. 
It is very important in this connection also to safeguard the civil services, particularly the morale of the senior people. The bureaucracy has an important role in national integration, in federalism, in development and in regulatory administration. Steps that cause resentment or demoralization in bureaucracy should be eschewed. 
Today in large tracts of the country Congressmen are totally demoralized. Many confide that ‘there is no Congress left’. We have to rejuvenate the organization and encourage the rank and file to organize party mobilization. 
Many Congressmen are without assignments. Also many people from other parties and those who had left the Congress earlier want to come back. We have to take necessary corrective steps with care and urgency—with a long-range vision. 
About all of the foregoing, I would again request you to introspect and to heed the dictates of your inner voice and conscience and consult with only your children. Beware of being misguided and misled by others. 
I trust you would excuse me for writing this letter. 
M.L. Fotedar
Extracted from The Chinar Leaves, M.L. Fotedar, HarperCollins, 354 pages, Rs 599.

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