Sonia Gandhi can do no wrong.
That seems to be the basic assumption in the current debate on the various decisions of a very controversial nature made by the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh since the present government was formed after the elections of 2009—whether the decisions related to the questionable functioning of the ministry of telecommunications or the wrongful appointment to the high-pedestal post of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) of someone facing an enquiry into a charge, which could cast a shadow on his integrity if proved or other serious matters of public interest.
In all the debates in public—whether in the media or by political parties— the focus has been on the role of the Prime Minister and other concerned ministers as well as bureaucrats. I watched with interest the debate in the various TV channels this evening on the adverse judgement of a bench of the Supreme Court delivered earlier in the day in the case regarding the procedure followed for the appointment of Shri PJ Thomas as the CVC.
The eminent personalities, who participated in the debates, as well as the TV anchors focussed only on the role of the various personalities in the government from the Prime Minister downwards. Not one of them mentioned even in passing the possible role of Sonia Gandhi as the leader of the Congress (I) in these controversial decisions. Even the spokespersons of the opposition parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), did not even mention her name in their interventions.
Does this mean that all these controversial decisions were taken only by the government with the Congress (I) leadership playing no role in it? Any objective analyst would find it difficult to accept this. We have been under a peculiar system of governance since 2004 in which real power seems to be wielded by Sonia Gandhi in her capacity as the head of the Congress (I) with the Prime Minister as the head of the government exercising only seeming power.
There has been an unseen, but unquestioned power which has been exercising a compulsive influence on decision-making in important matters. This compulsive influence is quite evident in the case of the appointment of the CVC. Whether in matters relating to his appointment despite his facing an incomplete enquiry or the defence of his appointment before the Supreme Court everyone from the Prime Minister downwards has been acting as if they were acting at the instance of an invisible force that could not be resisted. Such an invisible force could be only that of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi.
She has been conducting herself as a neutral, disinterested bystander, who had nothing to do with any of these decisions. She has not spoken on any of these decisions in any great detail, nor has she been questioned. Everyone, including the media and even the opposition, has been behaving as if like the British monarch she is above and beyond all controversies and, hence, her role cannot be questioned.
If one has to find out the real truth behind the recent controversies it is as important to go into her role as it is to go into the role of others. The assumption that Sonia Gandhi can do no wrong has to be challenged by the public as well as the media and the political class. She must be made to face the fire of criticism and questioning like any other leader. She should no longer be treated as if she is a morally superior person whose good faith and integrity have to be implicitly accepted.
It is important for the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) now being constituted to summon her and question her in detail on the various controversies. It is equally important for her role in decision-making to be debated in Parliament, in the media and elsewhere. She should herself welcome a greater public focus on her role and influence in decision-making.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.