M D Nalapat
FORMER Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is known in India as the “accidental” Prime Minister. His former Information Advisor, Sanjaya Baru, has written a very readable book called the “Accidental Prime Minister”, which was later made into a Bollywood movie. Baru wanted his boss to take advantage of the immense powers of the Prime Ministership and ensure that it was Manmohan Singh and not Sonia Gandhi who steered the ship of State. However, there was nothing even remotely “accidental” in the decision of Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi to select Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister, given that her taking over the job would have given the BJP a juicy target to derive political mileage from. Atal Behari Vajpayee as Prime Minister believed that as long as a Catholic of European descent led the principal opposition party, the BJP was safe. Genial to friends and unforgiving to enemies, Vajpayee went out of his way to ensure that Sonia Gandhi was protected from the darts thrown in her direction, many from within his own party.
Those who maintained good relations with Sonia Gandhi within the BJP, such as the always charming Arun Jaitley, were promoted while critics such as Govindacharya were marginalized within the BJP. The most persistent critic of Sonia Gandhi, former Harvard professor Subramanian Swamy, was kept out of the BJP by Vajpayee, joining the party only after Narendra Modi emerged as the prime ministerial candidate of the country’s biggest party. However, Vajpayee’s calculations went wrong when his government lost its mandate to a coalition led by Sonia Gandhi in 2004. The defeat came as a surprise to Vajpayee and to his ministers, who did not even remove the computers they had been using while in ministerial office before handing over charge to the nominees of the Congress Party and its allies. Certainly the computers would have yielded a treasure trove of information about the Vajpayee ministry. In contrast, after the Congress Party lost the 2014 parliamentary polls to a supercharged BJP led by Narendra Modi, they were given ten days to “clean up” and to make decisions to the last day in power that would benefit them.
The BJP won the election on May 16 and waited until May 26 before swearing in Narendra Modi in the presence of SAARC leaders, including then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan. Up to now, Prime Minister Modi has shown great forbearance where his predecessors are concerned, giving a clean chit to former PM Manmohan Singh (who held charge of the Coal Ministry when several criminal transactions took place that were later punished by the courts. The incoming government took the view that the Prime Minister’s Office under Manmohan Singh was blameless despite several dubious decisions having been cleared during that period. It needs to be said the Manmohan Singh is known to be personally honest, but regarded as having turned a blind eye to wrongdoing sanctioned by Congress Party leaders. The Modi government could have taken the view that Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister was culpable for wrong decisions taken, even though he personally did not derive any pecuniary benefit from such actions.
However, he was excused. In fact, no Minister in the Manmohan Singh government has been sent to jail under Narendra Modi, who has allowed anti-corruption agencies to take their own time investigating some of the many corruption charges that the BJP had levelled against the Manmohan Ministry during the latter’s decade in office. In fact, as Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh had sent one of his own Cabinet Ministers to prison and was about to send another when he was defeated in 2004. After the new government took office, the jailed minister was released from prison and the minister who was about to enter the portals of prison was given a reprieve from such a fate. Although a former minister, P Chidambaram, is being investigated by the anti-corruption agencies on multiple charges of wrongdoing, he has been granted bail more than two dozen times by the courts, who seem unconvinced by the Government of India’s case against him.President Trump too has shown mercy towards his rival in the 2016 presidential contest, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Rejecting the advice of several of his supporters, Trump refused to launch prosecution against Hillary Clinton, not even investigating the funding of the Clinton Foundation or retrieving through data systems the several thousand emails that the former Secretary of State deleted before they could be accessed by investigative agencies. Interestingly, Hillary Clinton has repaid this act of grace of President Trump by unleashing her many supporters on the 45th President of the US. A campaign that can only be described as frenzied erupted in the US the day that the new Head of State vetoed suggestions that the Clintons be formally investigated. That campaign has continued without pause since Trump was sworn in on January 20, 2016 and this is despite the inability of a clearly biased Special Counsel (Robert Mueller) to dig up anything that could criminally compromise Donald J Trump, who seems only to have been further energized by the unprecedented attacks on him.
In a desperate effort to further persecute (if not successful in legally prosecuting) President Trump, a motion has been moved in the House of Representatives to impeach the President. This is unlikely to be adopted, as the majority of even Democratic Party members in the House of Representatives understand that such a process would make Trump even more a hero to nearly half the voters of his country. President Trump is deliberately and conscientiously pursuing a line of action designed to attract his base even as it angers those who would anyway never vote for him. Given the confusion within the Democratic Party, only a war with Iran could derail Trump, and the New York billionaire understands this well.
However, those in the Administration who want war – such as National Security Advisor John Bolton – are ensuring that partners of the US adopt lines of action that are designed to provoke Iran into a reaction that could lead to war. An example was the UK seizing an Iranian oil tanker, an act of folly that would never have taken place had Prime Minister Teresa May not been so completely distracted by her impending exit from office. The war of 1914-1919 began as a consequence of mistakes and accidents. Hopefully, the world will avoid a repeat of the conditions which created such a conflagration. US voters like tough talk but recoil from body bags, something that Trump understands perfectly. Hopefully therefore, the standoff between Washington and Teheran will cool rather than overheat during coming weeks. Such a damping down of tensions would assist President Trump to win a second term in 2020.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.