The first time I met Rajiv Gandhi was on September 18 1990 and the last was on March 23 1991. The full story of that encounter has been told here and in print. I had been asked to stay on in Delhi for a few days for a possible follow-up meeting in case questions needed to be addressed but in the rather confused circumstances at the time during an election campaign, that never happened.
Before leaving Delhi, I gave the fellow-advisers in my group the following document authored by myself dated March 25 1991. The group’s last meeting with Rajiv was on March 23 1991 as has been told elsewhere. It had first met on September 25 1990 following my September 18 1990 meeting with Rajiv — so, in a sense, I was its first member.
Yet, unfortunately, in November 2007, one member of the group, who today apparently remains close to political power in New Delhi, chose to be publicly mendacious about all this — alleging Manmohan Singh (who himself has never made such a a claim) was part of the group while erasing, in the best traditions of Stalinist totalitarianism, my name and work in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to write a false history. I was compelled to expose this mendacity, an exposure that can be found elsewhere here.
Even so, I am glad to see the Congress Party still may have learnt from what I said because there are identifiable similarities between what they have done at the start of the second Sonia-Manmohan Government a few weeks ago, and what I had said in the March 25 1991 memo which, though it did not reach Rajiv, may have remained in some recipient’s files. Of course, if so, it is possible the mendacious have been taking undue political credit for its content: Aristotle said the virtues tend to be found together, and so too the vices — those who are mendacious are also likely to be, to make the point euphemistically, disrespectful of the property rights of others in favour of themselves (or, to put it bluntly, thieving).
As I have said elsewhere, Rajiv himself had said at our last March 23 meeting he wished to meet me alone and would be arranging it but that was not to be. Nor, to repeat, did he get to see this document, which I have today found again in my files and is published below unaltered.
Subroto Roy July 12 2009
“ON THE ART OF GOVERNMENT: EXPERTS, PARTY, CABINET & BUREAUCRACY
There are today (March 25 1991) less than 60 days to what we should assume will be a Congress victory. When Congress is returned to power, it should be ready from Day One to start implementing the policies in its manifesto. The initial momentum of victory should not be allowed to diminish into complacency at any point during the entire life of the Government. The strategic mistake of the 1984-89 Government must be avoided. This was to get euphoric, think that everything could be done quickly, lose momentum when realities catch up, then becoming vulnerable to an attack like Bofors which brings everything else down. We have to keep continuous control of the public agenda, and not let it slip into the hands of the Press or the Opposition for any significant amount of time.
Cycle of Political Action
Policy-making and implementation should be a continuous cyclical process institutionalized throughout the life of the Government: – the Party leadership should elicit political and expert advice and make recommendations to the Council of Ministers; – the Council of Ministers should instruct the Bureaucracy to prepare legislation accordingly for Parliament; – the Council of Ministers should monitor implementation of successful legislation via correct data and intelligence, and report back to the Party leadership; – the Party leadership should assess the political impact of the legislation, and re-advise the Council of Ministers accordingly. The ultimate goal is to enable the Party leadership to call and win the next Lok Sabha election within the next 60 months. That is the sole practical criterion of success. All short-term and medium-term plans and actions of the Party and Ministers have to dovetail one into the other from Day One for the achievement of this ultimate goal.
Preparing Ministers for the Job
Precious time can be lost preparing names of the Council of Ministers over days or weeks of speculation in the press and rivalry in the Party. A general pool from which the Council of Ministers is likely to be selected must be ready well before the victory at the polls is announced. The Council of Ministers should be named definitively within 24-48 hours of the Congress being asked to form the next Government. This will be the first signal to the world of the restoration of a strong, clear-headed Government of India. This will be celebration enough of the Congress’s victory. There is too much work to be done for there to be any tamasha. The Party leadership should formulate from now an initial 90-day plan to be put into action from Day One. This plan should be ready a week before Day One at the latest. The goal should be that when each Minister turns up at his/her Ministry for the first time, he/she must already know or have been advised or instructed by the Party leadership (a) what the specific job is in that Ministry in the next 90 days (b) where the Party leadership want that Minister to take that Ministry; (c) the specific steps the Minister must take within the first few days; (d) the general reforms which the Party leadership expects to see from that Ministry within 90 days. The Minister must be prepared to take charge from Day One of the superb, senior bureaucrats waiting to welcome him/her at the Ministry. If a Minister is not capable of taking charge of his/her bureaucrats then the latter will be forced to take charge of him/her. The Minister will never regain the momentum. Expert advice will reach such a Minister, if at all, only through bureaucrats rather than through the political process. The Party can almost write off the policies entrusted to such a Minister, there will be weak political monitoring of success, and alienation and disaffection in the Party as it feels sidelined by the Bureaucracy. The democratic mandate would have been stymied by lack of proper ministerial leadership. India’s senior bureaucracy is the best in the world without exception. The Congress Party, for all its faults, is one of the great political parties of the world. One of the arts of Indian Government today is to find the way to use all the talents of the bureaucracy and to win the political elections by maintaining Party morale, involvement and feedback.
Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers
It may be assumed as a fact that Rajiv Gandhi will face no challenge to his leadership from within his own Council of Ministers. Therefore, he can be confident in his leadership by both encouraging individual ministerial competence and monitoring their individual performance. He would be well-advised to explain at the outset to the Council of Ministers their common goals over the entire period of the expected life of the Government, and the planned method of achieving these goals. As basic rules of thumb, he would be well-advised to indicate boldly to his Council at the outset – that no Minister would face sudden dismissal or demotion during the life of the Government; – that such-and-such are the standards of ministerial performance he expects; – that the Prime Minister feels himself primus inter pares or first among equals, and chooses to lead them only so long as he has their collective confidence; – that every Minister has free access to him whenever the purpose is to enable Government to implement its mandate; – that he encourages free and open discussion within the Council; – that teamwork demands total confidentiality of these discussions, and total loyalty to the mandate of the Government for the entire life of the Government; – that he would accept without penalty the resignation of any Minister unable to abide by such principles or the decisions of the Council. These principles would set out some of the rules of the game of cabinet government in a clear fashion. One of the arts of Indian Government today is to find the way to let individual ministers grow and develop at their jobs without either feeling so intimidated by the Prime Minister as to be paralysed by fear, or feeling so ambitious that they want the Prime Minister’s job for themselves. If a Minister wants the Prime Minister’s job, he/she can ask for it in a proper Party forum at an appropriate time — not while they are part of this Prime Minister’s Council of Ministers. The responsible procedure for the Minister who is in total disagreement with his/her Prime Minister is to resign quietly without fanfare or publicity. If he/she wants to criticise the Government he/she should have the opportunity to do so at a closed Party forum — not in the Press or to benefit the Opposition. The Prime Minister can even state such a policy to his Council of the manner in which he expects disagreement with him can be responsibly expressed. The spectre of extreme irresponsible Cabinet behaviour of V. P. Singh and friends in the 1987-1989 period should always be before our mind. If such a model of cabinet government is considered the right one for the Centre then guidelines of this sort should go from the Party Working Committee to all appropriate Congress Committees in the States.
The Party, the Bureaucracy and Expert Advice
As a general rule, recommendations for political action should come to the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers from the Party not from the Bureaucracy. Our bureaucracy unlike others in the world is of very high quality. But like others it is inherently conservative, slow and status-quo-preserving. The Party on the other hand is or should be made to be inherently radical, fast-moving and status-quo reforming. Expert advice should generally enter the process at two different stages. First the Party should, in view of its political interests, solicit good quality expert advice from a wide spectrum of scholars, journalists, observers, public figures and the man on the street. On this basis it should make its recommendations for reform of the status-quo as radically as possible to the Government. The Government should then solicit a second round of expert advice via the Bureaucracy. This will be expected to be conservative and resisting change, partly due to normal aversion to risk and partly due to protect vested interests. In general, conservatives in this context are those whose interests are negatively affected by a change in a positive direction for the country as a whole, while radicals in this context are those desiring to bring about such change. If a radical proposal is accepted prematurely without proper preparation of expectations or formulation of a feasible deal, then it will fail due to conservative opposition and momentum will be lost. If conservative opposition stymies every proposal, there will be no change and the objective of winning the next election will fail to be achieved. One of the arts of Indian Government today is to find the right middle ground between radical proposals of change and expected conservative resistance. In this connection, part of the Party’s plan of action for Day One should be to prepare its opinions from now about the names and availability of possible expert personnel on various subjects, and the sources of correct intelligence and key data indicators for purposes of monitoring implementation.
The search engine above should locate any article by its title; the Index and Archives may be used as well.
Readers are welcome to quote from my work under the normal “fair use” rule, but please try to quote me by name and indicate the place of original publication in case of work being republished here. I am at Twitter @subyroy, see my latest tweets above