India has been going through a political and moral crisis of disturbing proportions, with no end to the crisis in sight. Despite undoubted economic growth, one could sense the lack of a feel good feeling right across the society.
We have a Prime Minister who had some moral authority, but had no political authority to be able to translate his moral authority into meaningful action against corruption. His perceived inaction or inadequate action against corruption has eroded even the moral authority he had. For nearly seven years, the Government has been headed by a person who is a Prime Minister on sufferance and not by right.
Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the Congress (I), has immense political authority, but, in the eyes of large sections of the people, lacks the required moral authority which could enable her to translate her political authority into acceptable policies to deal with the moral crisis confronting the country.
There is thus a huge vacuum --political and moral--in governance. Into that vacuum have sought to move in newly-emerging non-governmental forces in the name of the civil society. The government, which is helplessly buffeted by these forces, finds itself in a position where it is neither able to satisfy nor resist them.
These forces and the electronic media have made action against corruption the yard-stick by which to judge the performance of the Government and the Congress (I). The tendency of the Prime Minister to avoid action, if possible, and to act only when forced by external pressure or circumstances has created a widespread feeling that he is not serious when he talks of the Government’s determination to act against corruption.
There is a feeling at the best that he wants to act, but is prevented by the party from doing so and at the worst that neither he nor his party is genuinely interested in dealing with this evil. The consequent loss of what little moral authority was there has added to the strength of the newly-emerging non-governmental forces. They have been able to project themselves in the eyes of large sections of the people as the defenders of the moral fibre of the nation against a Government increasingly bereft of moral authority.
Unless and until the Government is able to acquire the required moral authority, the present moral and political crisis will continue to sap the energies and the prestige of the nation. It is doubtful whether a Prime Minister on sufferance will be able to acquire such moral authority, buttressed by political strength.
So long as Dr.Manmohan Singh continues to be perceived as a helpless Prime Minister buffeted between the civil society forces pressing for action against corruption and a Congress (I) headed by Sonia Gandhi which sees the civil society forces as a greater evil than corruption itself, there will be no end to the present crisis.
The buffeted ship of the nation needs a competent, self-confident and morally sensitive captain who can take it through the troubled waters. Even the most charitable well-wishers of Dr.Manmohan Singh would be doubtful in their mind whether he is the right man of the occasion.
However talented and administratively skilful, no Prime Minister on sufferance will be able to take the country out of the present crisis, which has demonstrated the inadvisability of dual authority with the de facto and the de jure centres of power contributing to a political and moral paralysis.
The time has come for mid-term polls which could usher in a Government headed by a Prime Minister by right and not on sufferance who could acquire the required moral and political authority and assert it effectively in the interest of the nation. Public opinion should demand early mid-term polls.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.