Maybe it has something to do with unlimited terms as Prime Minister of India. Between them, Nehru and Indira ruled India for more than thirty two years. It is deeply rooted in our psyche to idolize our leaders, especially after some extraordinary feat. If winning over Pakistan and creating Bangladesh was a feat achieved by Indira, India getting independence itself was a feat that was attributed to Nehru, as he became the figurehead of erstwhile fighting force that Congress was. Of course it was a bit difficult to rule a nascent republic, but Indians complacent after achieving independence, never put any stress on Panditji to stretch his limits. He himself though created many unnecessary conflicts that he tried to resolve till his end and left them to continue until now. Equating Indira with Durga after the win over Pakistan had turned her into a megalomaniac. Though people have shown her door for the excesses during emergency, they welcomed her again when the Janata experiment failed.
During their time, never Nehru or Indira had to struggle to win elections – except the post emergency one. They took the country for granted as there was no one who could take on them. This was what Mani Shankar Aiyar explained when he said “I would like to see who could take on Rahul Gandhi in elections and become Congress president”. The example of Sonia Gandhi winning over Jitendra Prasada and the number of votes polled only confirm what Mr Aiyyar said was truth. Unfortunately, this truth has reduced Congress from a party that could take on the mighty Brits to a sycophant breeding corporation.
Though this destiny of Congress was written by none other than the father of nation, when he coerced Bose, who was democratically elected as president of Congress, to resign. Ever since, it became a Gandhi party and still remained one with only quality of Gandhis decreasing steadily.
If we include Rajiv’s five years to his mother and grandfather’s tenure, together this family ruled India for more than 37 years out of about 70 years. Then, there were Rao and Manmohan, whose tally can add another fifteen years. Vajpayee was the first non-Congress PM, who ruled India for a full term, while Rao remained the first non-Gandhi PM, who ruled for a full term.
It is now accepted to a larger extent that by and large, terms of Rao and Vajpayee were the most productive years independent India had seen. This is neither to belittle Nehru nor to take away the sheen off Indira’s comprehensive victory. For the discussion it is better to consider all prime ministers are equally sincere and are full of integrity. The point of debate is, despite the prime minister is good, what it takes to make him to be more efficient.
The cases of Rao and Vajpayee were in contrast. Rao was on his way to one mutt in Kumbhakonam, when he had to take over reins of the country. On the other hand, Vajpayee rose to power through regular process i.e., by winning elections. The difference between them is Rao had much more administrative experience than Vajpayee so it was natural for him to have his own vision at how things should be in much broader scope. So happened were economic reforms, eliminating terrorism from Punjab, laying foundations for second nuclear test etc.
On his part, Vajpayee had to execute the nuclear test, build necessary infrastructure that was apparently absent at that point of time, given the fact Indian businesses were globally blooming. In a way, it may be put Vajpayee had stressed more on building infrastructure, creating smaller states etc., that were not so path breaking if compared to what Rao did. And Vajpayee had to experience of being caught off-guard during Kargil episode and for releasing terrorists in exchange of lives of about two hundred Indians. One thing he initiated with long term vision and impact was GST that may finally see light this year, nearly fourteen years after it was envisaged, the other being preparing ‘Cold Start’ doctrine that was tested last year.
During Rajiv’s term he tried to introduce advanced technology to Indians, through his friend Shyam Pitroda. Had he willed more, there would have been more thrust on technology, but he could not oppose the Yadav leaders who were hell bent on opposing the computers, like the ignorant communists. Still, it was due to Pitroda’s efforts some advancement happened in the communications field. Had there been more thrust on technology during Rajiv’s tenure, Indian IT revolution might have been unleashed onto the world immediately after Rao opened the gates and not after a four years of curing time.
Yet, Vajpayee’s regime witnessed perhaps the most impressive improvement in Indian infrastructure. And both Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayeee have had to run a minority government and deal with allies, which makes their job more difficult.
Say, if the ruler is a visionary, experienced and sincere about how he perceives the future of the country and has a road map to achieve whatever he visions. Still, Nehru’s India could not progress as much as China has progressed, after Deng Xiaoping. Nehru had a plan – that of a socialist republic that would be modeled on the lines of erstwhile Soviet. But, what Nehru also had with him was – an abundant amount of time. Nehru was a narcissist and so there were consequences that India had to face even after he passed away. Indira was not a visionary, but had an unparalleled competence in execution. So, whatever little she could think, whether it was good or bad, she could execute it; ironically this included even imposing emergency.
Considering Indians have understood his critical role in transforming India into what it is after the direct rule by Nehru-Gandhi family, what made Rao to be a successful Prime Minister – especially in retrospect?
Here was a man who knows what to do and how to do and to whom he should delegate. Yet, he could tackle multiple areas of governance varying from nuclear defence to economic reforms to curbing terrorism and bringing down the Babri (I feel, given his capability, he could have easily prevented its fall, if he willed so) in relatively small time frame, despite continuously handling opposition within his party and without. He could establish his position in the party too in those five years by placing Sonia Gandhi at a place where he thought she deserves i.e., outside the party.
Over and above all other of his competencies, it was his according highest priority to TIME. Finding himself in a fix, when he occupied the seat of power, he started off to dealing with all problems, as if there is no tomorrow. And, these are not my words, but one of his close associates. He knows the circumstances that have brought him to power may not keep him there for long. He was not even sure whether he can complete full term or not. He was a man running a race against time, given his advanced age at that time. Maybe it was the energy of absolute power that acted as an aphrodisiac and made his cheeks puff once he became prime minister. At best all he had were five years and at worse one day.
Vajpayee on the other hand was a consensus candidate without any prior experience. Having decades of experience as opposition leader would never come in handy, when one is placed in position of power. Candid admission by Indrajit Gupta explained how irrelevant decades of parliamentary experience in actual governance. In fact, Vajpayee could not even establish himself in the party as the Numero Uno, with Advani’s shadow continuously lurking behind him. The ambitions of Advani were too visible behind the electoral campaign of BJP ‘India Shining’. One may praise Vajpayee’s way of handling Kashmir, but it is a fact that unlike Punjab, where terrorism was wiped out, Kashmir is still burning. Like Indira, Vajpayee could do what he could do best – implementation! And he did it.
Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Vajpayee thought they would come to power again and so settled for a slower pace of implementing things. This was one feature that differentiates their governments from Rao’s government, if we discount individual traits.
I am excluding Manmohan Singh from the discussion because he never had absolute power. Those who try to counter me may read the reply by his PMO to committee enquiring Common Wealth games scam, saying ‘Sports ministry knows the reasons best’.
Maybe limiting the tenure of Indian Prime Minister spurs the rulers to push things what they wanted to do in a time bound manner. As the Murphy’s law states, work would last as long as time is available. Given the fact we Indians are intrinsic to create heroes out of everyone and idolize all national leaders including current PM Modi, it would only help the leaders to deliver more, when they realize their time is limited. After all, after becoming PM, one only thrives for securing a place for him in the annals of history (which even MMS tried), they can escalate the way things happen in this country.
This point may be noted even by the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi too. Already he wasted running after Congress trying to pass GST, as if it is the only remedy to all financial maladies.
BJP may be waiting to get majority in Rajya Sabha so that they can implement whatever plans they would like to. PM Modi may learn that majority is not everything; else even Rajiv could do much. With majority in both houses of parliament, anyone can push their plans. PM Modi should note that it takes a bit more maturity and higher level of intelligence and capability to do when they don’t have majority. That is the classic case of efficiency. Hope, the current government will try to utilize remaining time of the term to the best of their abilities.
Another factor that helps the PM to deliver is by having a credible opposition. But, that would be an independent discussion itself.