The current crisis over the Ordinance controversy impels one to recall events.
On May 16, 1999 The Statesman carried a report which said that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had attempted to set up a joint training program between Indian and Italian intelligence agencies. The original proposal came from the Italians. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi's Italian brother-in-law had links with Italian intelligence. He put up the proposal. RAW officials shot down the idea. They pointed out that Italy was a conduit for nuclear technology to Pakistan. Therefore the proposed venture contained security risks. The information in the newspaper report came from Mr. B. Raman who had served in the cabinet secretariat as a senior official. Today Mr. Raman is recognized as a distinguished authority on security affairs.
When the present UPA government assumed office media outlets trumpeted that Sonia Gandhi had declined the post of Prime Minister. She was compared to Mahatma Gandhi, the Buddha and Mother Teresa. "Outlook weekly's cover page wondered if she could be called 'Saint Sonia?" In that same weekly I questioned the fact that she had declined the post. I suggested that she received no offer. I quoted the B. Raman report in The Statesman. According to sources the President on the basis of intelligence reports sought assurance that no security risks would be involved if she became Prime Minister. He wanted some clarifications from Mrs. Gandhi. According to some media reports at that time some sections in the armed forces enquired whether as PM she could access information about the nation's nuclear program. Mrs. Gandhi decided not to become PM. She echoed Mahatma Gandhi to say that she had heeded her 'inner voice'.
In Outlook weekly, dated June 7, 2004, I wrote: 'Why should the President have held back? Is it because she could have been a security risk? And hence she could not be given access to India's nuclear secrets ' making her thereby untenable as PM? Will Rashtrapati Bhawan tell us?'
Rashtrapati Bhawan said nothing. It did tell off others who had raised questions about Mrs. Gandhi being debarred because of her foreign origins. However, even if too much is not read in Rashtrapati Bhawan's silence, there is the question of Mrs. Gandhi's subsequent conduct. Apparently her inner voice remained silent after that first one message. As Congress President she amended the party constitution, created an extra-constitutional post of Chairperson in a newly created National Advisory Council to oversee the government's work, and remained Chairperson of the UPA alliance. She got cabinet rank. At first Congress leaders claimed she would have access to all government files. Legal impediments prevented that. In short, through these measures and the supine acquiescence of her senior colleagues Mrs. Gandhi concentrated all power in her own hands. She became the Prime Minister's remote control.
Mahatma Gandhi, it might be recalled, never accepted any post in party or government.
Very soon the UPA government ran into trouble. First, there was the unconstitutional dissolution of the Bihar Assembly. The cabinet took a panic decision and promulgated an ordinance to pre-empt Mr. Nitish Kumar from forming a government. In a wholly inadequate Supreme Court judgment the Bihar Governor was castigated. The judgment failed to elaborate on its observation that the cabinet had acted with undue haste. In fact both the PM and the President were as much responsible as the Governor. The Court failed to state this in clear terms. I wrote then suggesting that both the President and the PM should resign.
Then came release of the Volcker Report. The Oil-For-Food scam erupted in which was involved the Congress party's name, and therefore the Congress President's culpability. Mrs. Gandhi's close confidant, former Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, had to resign. Soon the government's decision to unfreeze the frozen London bank accounts of Mrs. Gandhi's close family friend, Mr Ottavio Quattrochi, became public. The Volcker affair and Mr Quattrochi's case are still under scrutiny. Before they could be disposed of the Scorpene submarine scandal erupted. In that deal once again a family friend of Mrs. Gandhi has allegedly received illegal commission on behalf of the Congress Party. The Defence Minister's denial in Parliament of any wrongdoing by government in this deal notwithstanding, this affair is likely to escalate.
By any standard this is a formidable record for less than two years of power. And now the system has been clobbered by the government's decision to suddenly adjourn Parliament in mid-session to allow an Ordinance intended to protect Sonia Gandhi and other luminaries from disqualification as MPs. This was done to avoid the fate that befell Mrs. Jaya Bachchan who was disqualified as MP because she occupied an office of profit. The contrast between the glee of Congress leaders over Mrs. Bachchan's disqualification and their panic over application of the same law to themselves was nothing short of contemptible.
At the moment of writing Mrs. Jaya Bachchan's plea before the Supreme Court to clearly define an office of profit awaits consideration. The Constitution has not defined it. Article 102(1) (a) of the Constitution which debars MPs from holding an office of profit states that an office of profit need not bestow pecuniary advantage. It is sufficient if it bestows administrative and executive powers. In the absence of further clarification in the Constitution it is Supreme Court rulings on the subject that determine what constitutes an office of profit. Successive SC rulings have created an exacting definition. All perks are considered equivalent to remuneration. Apart from executive or judicial powers even influence and patronage accruing to a government appointment renders it an office of profit.
Mrs. Sonia Gandhi's resignation from Parliament to pre-empt disqualification was meaningless. It was similar to her rejection of the PM's post. Mrs. Gandhi's attempt to seize the high moral ground by making virtue out of necessity became transparent from the sequence of events. She stayed put while Parliament was adjourned and the Ordinance was being planned. Then the President forwarded all petitions against MPs to the Election Commission. The CEC said the law was equal for all. Mrs. Gandhi knew the game was up. She played the script of renunciation she had learnt earlier. After she resigned the Congress denied it had planned the Ordinance. This lie was transparent. If no Ordinance was intended why was Parliament's recess converted to an adjournment? The Congress had egg all over its face. Mrs. Gandhi challenged the opposition and announced she would seek re-election from Rae Bareilly.
Will she contest a by-election or a mid-term poll? Time will tell.
Meanwhile all Indians should reflect. How much longer can they tolerate the present political culture? It has polluted all parties. But the Congress is its fountainhead. India's economic and diplomatic breakthroughs have been jeopardized by mis-governance and destruction of democracy. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh alone are not responsible. A century of Congress culture brought this about. The seeds of the decadent and dynastic Congress culture were planted a century ago. From Allen Octavian Hume to Sonia Gandhi, spanning icons like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, it has been a history of decline and abject subservience to foreigners. The Congress degenerated from a movement to a party, from a party to a dynasty.
Today India stands on the threshold of a new multipolar world. To play its rightful role it will have to undo the spirit of the Partition. Can the Congress, the very instrument of imperialist Britain to partition the subcontinent, summon the mindset to undo its own work? It has outlived its role. It must be consigned to the dustbin of history.
India needs a new party, a new political culture and a new freedom struggle.