May 18, 2004

The Best Man Gets the Job

Miraculous to see: it looks like the best man for the job is going to be india's Prime Minister:

The Agonist: Gandhi Tells Backers She Will Not Be India's Prime Minister: On the day she was to stake her claim to lead India, Sonia Gandhi instead told party members and allies that she would not become prime minister. News reports said she would support Dr. Manmohan Singh, a former finance minister, as prime minister. A Sikh, he would be India's first minority prime minister.

Posted by DeLong at May 18, 2004 07:54 AM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post

Dr. Manmohan Singh ... would be India's first minority prime minister."

Mrs. Ghandi also would have been India's first minority prime minister. Funny what years of Nationalist government will do to a country.

Posted by: jlw on May 18, 2004 08:21 AM


Maybe the end result is that the best person got the job -- but since Sonia seems to have made the decision partly based on the Bombay market crashing, and partly on fears she'd be assassinated, the process doesn't sound so good.

Posted by: P O'Neill on May 18, 2004 09:35 AM


Also, as someone who does not know a great deal about India, can I ask for explaination of your assertion that he is the best qualified person for the job?

Posted by: Gar Lipow on May 18, 2004 09:57 AM


I can't speak for the good professor, but I believe that Manmohan Singh is the primary architect of the economic liberalization, and I believe that is why he is classified as such.

Since we know that free market liberalization inevitably leads to rising standards of living for the poor, increased democratization, the complete elimination of ethnic strife, that the rain may never fall till after sundown, there will be no AIDS or unmarried pregnancy, eliminates domestic violence, creates winning Cricket teams, etc., it is undoubtedly true.

Posted by: Matthew Saroff on May 18, 2004 10:22 AM


In response to Gar Lipow:

In all respects this seems like the best possible outcome. Ms. Sonia Gandhi is a decent person who has not exhibited overt power trip tactics in a decade of her political career. While her family name and adult children were a huge draw for the masses of Indian voters – voters who didn’t seem to have gained all that much from the years of prosperity under the BJP government - it is debatable how competent she would have been in the actual role of the PM, not to mention the security risks of political life and the strong reaction she would create among the people on the right with her foreign origins.

Dr. Manmohan Singh is an ex-finance minister (1992-96) who is regarded as the architect of India's economic reforms. See bio on BBC He has held top academic and government positions and certainly knows a thing or two about the Indian bureaucracy. The statement about him being the first minority PM is a non-issue – most Indians don’t look at the origins of people of caliber. The President is a renowned technocrat and happens to be a Muslim and his nomination was sponsored and fully supported by the then ruling Hindu nationalist party BJP.

I am happy for India if this works out … but in politics, it is not done until it is done.

The Perlustrator

Posted by: Perlustrator on May 18, 2004 10:38 AM


Perlustrator is right in his caution that it ain't done till it's done. However, Gandhi seems to have pulled a really slick political move here. There was a pretty clear intention among some BJP politicians to make the transition as ugly as possible. Gandhi's gesture in turning down a position that she, by the rules of the game, could rightfully claim, makes such antics look as petty as they are. Opposing her guy for PM, when he is widely recognized as an excellent choice, would seem worse than petty. So (unless I'm misreading this, which is a fair chance) Gandhi has beaten the BJP twice - once at the polls and once in the formation of a government. This is starting to look like fun.

Now, what about relations with Pakistan?

Posted by: K Harris on May 18, 2004 11:04 AM


Yes, this is the best outcome under the circumstances, but Sonia came to this through twists and turns, like a Bollywood movie. Any intelligent person could have anticipated the reaction from the oppo BJP, the stock market and the utterances of her alliance members (communists making government-like pronouncements, even before the horse left the gate) and taken this route by nominating Manmohan Singh a week ago, when her coalition won a slight majority.
One who couldn't foresee events just a week ahead, when others easily and plainly could, is unfit to become PM. But the story came to a happy ending anyway, as I said, just like in a Bollywood movie.

Posted by: ecoast on May 18, 2004 11:05 AM


Agree with K Harris about Sonia’s slick move, though it seemed to be a reaction rather than a planned action... It also helped move some wealth from the hands of foreign investors into the hands of local investors..

> Now, what about relations with Pakistan?

That would be interesting. Assuming for a moment that all is not going to be well hereafter, BJP is going to find it difficult blaming INC for peace overtures towards Pakistan having started the process themselves. It looks like BJP was completely oblivious to the chance that they could lose power and therefore was beginning to do the right thing for the country and the region. Politics struck them a blow!

The Perlustrator

Posted by: Perlustrator on May 18, 2004 11:34 AM


It is not clear that Mr Singh is the best man for the job. He is not a career politician, and does not have a political base of any sort. As a finance minister he was able to do what he did because of the backing and support of the then Prime Minister, who was the one who managed the political angle. I dont think he could have done much without the PM's backing. I wish him well, but I am not sure that he will make an effective Prime Minister.

Posted by: anon on May 18, 2004 11:43 AM


You should also consider the fact that the BJP will oppose Singh almost as virulently as Ms. Ghandi.

While the BJP is generally described as a "Hindu Nationalist" party, a better description is, "Hindu Supremacist".

A significant portion of its base, and its leadership is is racist in outlook and appeal, and a Sikh as a PM must have them freaking out.

Posted by: Matthew Saroff on May 18, 2004 12:14 PM


I wish him well, but I am not sure that he will make an effective Prime Minister.

Sonia will remain as the party president and provide
support to Singh, while he runs with the govt.
Yes, he doesn't have a base, but that could also become an asset, you know. Vajpayee's own political base was not as big as his clean, uncorrupt image or aura. Same with Singh. He is a technocrat with some political savvy and not a street politician and definitely not corrupt.

But then, whether he will be successful or not is an open question, I agree. There is always a factor of 'fitting in chair' or 'growing with job'. One hopes he will rise to the occasion.
You could argue the same with Vajpayee or Clinton or Bush.

Posted by: ecoast on May 18, 2004 12:37 PM


'While the BJP is generally described as a "Hindu Nationalist" party, a better description is, "Hindu Supremacist".'

Indeed it is!
And Mrs. Gandhi's legacy to India - hopefully she will continue to be active - is the manner in which she has used the enormous appeal of her family name to steer India's 1 billion people away from what was sure to become a nasty ethnically chauvinistic hindu-Uber-alles regime; already the recrimnations are that the ruling party lost becuass it was not Supremacist enough.
And while I'm too far from the scene to say so clearly, the 'minority' aspect of Manmohan Singh's selection may not be accidental, as the quest to keep India secular was a driving force in her decision to enter politics. BJP sees itself only as asserting its natural rights after years of Colonial and post-colonial suppression of the native indian pscyhe through western-based schooling and aping of fashion and culture; only in the recent 10-20 years has the country felt a justified pride in ethnic-based clothing, pop-culture, popular media (TV, film) and religion; however the religious right-wing has harnessed that pride into a Ram-Rajya (i.e. Kingdom of Ram on Earth) obsession that would put Buchanan, Pat Roberts, Ariel Sharon and Osama-bin-laden to shame.
A few months ago, Ariel Sharon came sniffing around N.Delhi and amid speeches by both sides of how terrorists were destroying the fabric of both their societies, they signed an arms sale pact, and promised exchange of intelligence; since then our good freind Tom Friedman has also been singing the praises of Bangalore, and elsewhere I have read slightly scheming stories of how Indian and Jewish cultures are so similar. I have wondered whether it's not all an orchestrated wooing and harnessing of India as a potential bulwark against the forces of Muslim 'evil'. And that is such a wrong direction for India; the India that I knew has always been warm and open and the least bit paranoid; ALso India has the largest population of muslims after Pakistan (I think) - nearly 160 million; it would be a travesty to turn an open secular society like modern India into an inward looking, angry paranoid xenophobic society that much of the rest of the world has become; India worked hard at staying secular, through the heart-wrenching years of partition when more than 1 million mulsims and hindus died (I am neither hindu nor muslim!) and to the current Kashmir struggle still being waged.
So I am so glad that a temporary reprieve has been had.

Posted by: LibertyGuard on May 18, 2004 01:23 PM


Maybe I'm giving the woman too much credit, but handing the government to Singh on day one would not have allowed party regulars the opportunity to ponder the difficulties of forming a government. As the days passed, those difficulties were shaping up to be rather large. We US-types like to have things happen lickety-split. Do Indian governments form overnight, or after a couple weeks of fermenting? I don't know.

The BJP (Vajpayee) shepherded things from threatened war with Pakistan to cross-border sports matches. Is there a sufficient populist appeal to peace that a minority-led government can make a fragile new peace stronger? The Congress Party has a pretty mixed record with Pakistan, does it not?

Posted by: K Harris on May 18, 2004 01:29 PM


A significant portion of its base, and its leadership is is racist in outlook and appeal, and a Sikh as a PM must have them freaking out.

#1 it is the Congress, and Sonia's husband, who turned Delhi into an orgy of Sikh-killing. #2 it is the BJP that helped to keep the issue of those murders alive. so who is freaking whom? the bjp's view of sikhs as basically hindu is no doubt offensive to plenty of sikhs, but in recent history they have been defending sikhs from the congress, rather than vice-versa.

nor do i think there is cause to import european categories like racism into what the bjp is about.

most Indians don’t look at the origins of people of caliber. The President is a renowned technocrat and happens to be a Muslim and his nomination was sponsored and fully supported by the then ruling Hindu nationalist party BJP.

that's an awfully sanguine view. as for kalam, his token status is widely acknowledged, see:

Posted by: drapeto on May 18, 2004 02:21 PM


The nastiest problem of every right wing movement is that too many scoundrels and ruffians make it aboard before the saner voices get a chance to demarcate the boundaries, if at all. Pressures of a parliamentary form of democracy make it difficult to draw the line in advance. I agree with LibertyGuard that this might be a huge blessing for India for now.

“Is there a sufficient populist appeal to peace” Harris asks. I don’t think there ever is an active populist appeal to peace except during the immediate aftermath of a war. Peace is boring; war gives the adrenalin rush. Thankfully the current set of Indian leaders (I hope) doesn’t seem to be looking for war to stay in power. But I wonder what BJP’s agenda will be after this. Wouldn’t they be forced to move back further right - just to get back in touch with the base?

The Perlustrator

Hint to right-wing everywhere: Learn how to stay in touch with the base from the Bush team through their clerics – Rush, Hannity, and Fox News.

Posted by: Perlustrator on May 18, 2004 02:37 PM


Well well, We all have been on the wrong track.
Apparently, the real reason that Sonia withdrew was
that the President had some probing questions about
her Indian citizenship and there were some constitutional questions involved. Here are some excerpts from the Indian daily Pioneer:

Posted by: ecoast on May 18, 2004 05:26 PM


Well well, We all have been on the wrong track.
Apparently, the real reason that Sonia withdrew was
that the President had some probing questions about
her Indian citizenship and there were some constitutional questions involved. Here are some excerpts from the Indian daily Pioneer:

Did Sonia Gandhi step down from the race to be Prime Minister because her "inner voice" suddenly told her to do so? Why did this "voice" speak now, despite her being elected Congress Parliamentary Party leader and after obtaining letters of support from all allied parties?

Apparently, it was not the "inner voice" but certain queries that could have been put to her by the President of India, custodian of the Constitution, which caused her to withdraw her name.

However, he is believed to have sought certain clarifications on a few points regarding the precise status of her Indian citizenship. In doing so, he may have referred to some pointed queries referred to him by legal luminaries who met him since the declaration of the Lok Sabha election results.

The most damaging clarification that has apparently been sought relates to Article 102 of the Constitution that says: "A person shall be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being, a member of either House of Parliament" on any or more of five possible grounds. Clause(d) of the same Article says "... or is under any acknowledgement of allegiance or adherence to a foreign state".

The term "adherence" had to be clarified specifically as Ms Gandhi in her affidavit before the Returning Officer of the Rai Bareli parliamentary constituency had stated that she owned ancestral property, namely portion of a house, in Orbassano, Italy, the country of her origin. This fact of ownership, legal experts say, makes her subject to Italian law in this matter and could be interpreted as "adherence" to a foreign country. Since this portion of the ancestral property was apparently bequeathed to her by her father in his will, she inherited it only after his death. Consequently, the property was not her's when she filed her 1999 nomination affidavit.

Article 103 states that "if any question arises as to whether a member of either House of Parliament has become subject to disqualification mentioned in Article 102, the question shall be referred for the decision to the President and his decision shall be final". Clause 2 of the Article says: "Before giving any decision on such question, the President shall obtain the opinion of the Election Commission and shall act according to such opinion."

This means that the President is required by the Constitution to undertake an elaborate process of examining the legal and constitutional issues involved. Thus, Ms Gandhi's swearing-in could not happen before the matter was fully clarified and resolved.

Another point that came in the way of Ms Gandhi was Section 5 of the Citizenship Act. Under this, there is a reciprocity provision whereby citizenship granted by India to persons of foreign origin is circumscribed by the rights that particular country confers upon foreigners seeking citizenship there.

The crux of this provision of "reciprocity" is that a person of foreign origin, who has acquired the citizenship of India through registration by virtue of marrying an Indian national, cannot enjoy more rights (like becoming Prime Minister), if the same opportunity is not available to an Indian-born citizen in that particular country.
The report goes on and on and you get the crux of the matter.

Section 5 of the Citizenship Act, dealing with the reciprocity clause for a person who registered herself as an Indian citizen, says the said person could not enjoy more rights than those available to an Indian born person in that other country if he/she acquires citizenship of that country, like Italy for instance.

The clauses of the Citizenship Act were apparently not fully met when Ms Gandhi relinquished her Italian citizenship.

Posted by: ecoast on May 18, 2004 05:37 PM


Cf. Empire Notes' comments today on Indian election and neoliberalism

Posted by: Dick Fitzgerald on May 18, 2004 05:54 PM


Cf. Empire Notes' comments today on Indian election and neoliberalism

Posted by: Dick Fitzgerald on May 18, 2004 05:55 PM


Drapeto, if I remember correctly Indira Gandhi made the notable decision NOT to fire her Sikh guards even as their ability to remain loyal was called into question. I don't know about the reprisals, however.

Posted by: James on May 18, 2004 08:37 PM


I have heard the BJP called lots of things, but "racist" and anti-sikh are not among those things. I don't think it is any more so in these matters than any other party. Also, calling President Kalam as a "token" is simply defamatory. I don't know how this is a "well known" fact just because some article says so. When I last looked President Kalam is universally respected in India, among all political parties and is very popular with the common people. Making him president was one of the smarter things that Mr Vajpayee did as a Prime Minister.

Regarding peace with Pakistan, the previous government has gone out of its way to arrange one with Pakistan, inspite of an attempt to invade Indian territory, an attempt to bomb the Indian parliament, bomb blasts in Mumbai and various other terrorist activities that can be traced back to Pakistani state sponsorship of terrorism. The new government is not likely to do anything very different. Indian Govt policy on these matters is the same irrespective of the party (ies) in power. The onus is really on Pakistan to stop sponsoring and supporting terrorism around the world. "The Perlustrator" is being frivolous and plain wrong when he says that "peace is boring" and implies that govts in India use the threat of war to win elections. Typically, no government in India is elected on the basis of foreign or defence policy. And there is nothing funny about Indians, both civilian and military, getting killed daily due to terrorist attacks.

Posted by: anon on May 18, 2004 08:50 PM


'I have heard the BJP called lots of things, but "racist" and anti-sikh are not among those things.'!

If 'racism' = 'ethnocentrism' = 'casteism' = 'Hindustan for Hindus', then BJP is racist!
Under continued BJP rule, Muslims and non-Hindus would gradually be de facto second-class citizens, if they are not so already.
Under continued BJP rule, India would very certainly become a mockery of democracy, something like Israel, with Gaza strips along the Kashmir border, in Muslim belts in UP, and Hyderabad and Christian belts in Goa and Kerala holding all ethnically impure Indians stripped of voting rights!! The McDonald franchises would all be on this side of the Gaza strip!

'Also, calling President Kalam as a "token" is simply defamatory.'???
It is established fact that the Indian Presidency is a ceremonial role, more along the lines of the monarch's role in a parliamentary democratic monarchy - works like an umpire or referree in a wrestling match or crises such as the current one. Sure he is respected, as an umpire, not as a wrestler.

Posted by: LibertyGuard on May 19, 2004 03:49 AM


In response to "anon" I need to clarify that I didn't imply that "govts in India use the threat of war to win elections". I tried to put the "peace is boring" sentiment across as an universal truth - the U.S. itself being an unfortunate example.

On the contrary I have to ackonowledge that Indian governments have shown an immense amount of maturity inspite of all the provocations from Pakistan. I truly wish them the best. They are fine people in a great country that deserve a whole lot better.

The Perlustrator

Posted by: Perlustrator on May 19, 2004 08:13 AM


Liberty Guard, you're talking complete nonsense. The BJP cannot possibly be as anti-Sikh as the COngress, which insituted the pogrom of 1984. I as in New delhi at that time, and everyone knows that thousands of Sikhs were butchered by Congress party functionaries, most of whom got away with it.

Your other statements are also nonsense -- yes, the BJP has an active Hindu militant wing, but that is far crm from your ridiculous claims. Lets not forget that the trouble in Kashmir started under a Congress that had ruled India for the great majority of its years.

As far as the President goes, he is not merely a figurehead, he has authoriry such as the veto power.

Posted by: Mythbuster on May 19, 2004 02:12 PM


In response to ecoasts post about the Pioneer report, the Pioneer tends to be a BJP-friendly newspaper and it just went overboard with that story. As it turns out, their source was plain wrong and the President's office came out with a denial of that story. Here is the gist...

The Rashtrapati Bhavan has denied that President A P J Abdul Kalam raised the issue of citizenship during his meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday. "The matter was not discussed at all," S M Khan, the President's press secretary, told

A leading daily had said that Kalam asked her about Article 5 of the Constitution, which refers to citizenship.

Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Sushma Swaraj and Govindacharaya, met the President and raised the issue of Gandhi's foreign origin, he said. "The President simply heard them out."

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