Institutions and states tend to decay when there is a weakening of the command and control at the top.
2.Many institutions and States do pass through such spells due to the failure of the human element, but they manage to correct themselves in time and prevent the decay from setting in.
3.That is where the quality of the command and control comes in. The command and control can’t be brilliant all the time. There will be lapses from time to time, but a good leadership exercising the command and control notices and corrects them in time.
4.The citizens of our country---whatever be their political persuasion and whatever be their ideological leanings--- have reasons to be concerned over the continuing signs of a lack of command and control in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the Cabinet Secretariat that have been coming in for nearly two years now.
5.Among such signs, one could draw attention to the following:
(a). The failure to act in time in dealing with the cascading indicators of corruption in different Ministries of the Government and in the committee set up to organise the Commonwealth Games. The indictors were deafening and yet were ignored till the judiciary stepped in.
(b).The failure to understand and appreciate the growing public concern over what was perceived as the studied inaction of the Government on these corruption indicators and to address those concerns to the satisfaction of the people.
( c).The failure to take seriously the allegations of large amounts held by Indian nationals in foreign bank deposits and act to establish the truth and bring back the money, if the allegations were correct. In the face of the perceived unsatisfactory action of the Government, the judiciary has been forced to step in by bringing the investigation under its control.
(d). The mishandling of public demands for setting up an independent and effective machinery for dealing with future complaints of corruption, which has resulted in the mushrooming of public agitations on this issue and in the emergence of a new breed of non-State actors, who have managed to project themselves as the genuine upholders of public morality and as the genuine voices of the people despite their never having participated in the political processes of the country such as the elections. The mishandling has created a new centre of unelected authority called the civil society in addition to the Executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
( e ). The mishandling of appointments to certain posts such as that of the Central Vigilance Commissioner, which carry a certain moral authority and hence require incumbents with unimpeachable moral credentials.
( f ). A reluctance to communicate with the people on the issues of concern to them directly or through the media.
( g ). A failure to understand the immense potential and soft power of the media of today and benefit from its capabilities, strength and reach to establish an equation with the people.
( h). A penchant for letting sleeping dogs lie instead of boldly confronting issues.
6.One can go on and on and on. A disturbing instance of the shockingly casual manner in which the PMO and the Cabinet Secretariat have been functioning was seen in the messy sequel to the Prime Minister’s recent long-delayed interaction with a small and pampered group of senior editors. The exercise was meant to provide the Prime Minister with an opportunity to convey a clear message to the people that he was in effective command and control.
7.Instead, the result achieved was quite the opposite. The PM was apparently not briefed by his officials in the PMO and the Cabinet Secretariat that the transcript of the discussions would be released to the public and hence he should be careful while talking about State-to-State relations with other countries. As a result, some of his remarks have caused serious embarrassment.
8.The PM apparently did not also get himself properly briefed about the corruption cases in various stages of investigation and prosecution. This has resulted in the PM making statements in matters relating to the Commonwealth Games that are not factually correct.
9.The PMO and the Cabinet Secretariat are the nerve-centres of the Government of India. The PMO acts as the personal nerve-centre of the PM. The Cabinet Secretariat acts as the nerve-centre of the Council of Ministers. If the PMO functions unsatisfactorily it reflects poorly on the leadership of the Prime Minister as the head of the Executive. If the Cabinet Secretariat , which also comes under the PM, functions inadequately it reflects poorly on the functioning of the Council of Ministers and the Government as a whole.
10.How effective is the command and control in the Government of India can be seen from the effective manner in which the PMO and the Cabinet Secretariat function. How effective are the PMO and the Cabinet Secretariat is dependent on how effective is the assertion of the executive authority by the PM.
11.Just by the Prime Minister asserting before a small group of pampered Editors that “I am in charge” doesn’t necessarily prove that he is in charge. If he is effectively in charge, he does not have to proclaim it from the roof-top. The people will notice it from the way the Government functions.
12.Past Prime Ministers never had to proclaim from the roof-top that they were in charge. The people knew that they were in charge. It is unfortunate that Dr.Manmohan Singh finds himself constrained to say and prove in vain that he is in charge because large sections of the people and opinion-makers of this country do not believe he is in charge.
13.It is time for the Prime Minister to do an introspection and give a real shake-up to the way the Government has been functioning.
14.I hold Dr.Manmohan Singh in great esteem. The country ought to be proud of his contribution as an academic, as the No.2 in the South-South Commission, as a bureaucrat and as the Finance Minister. But his contribution as the Prime Minister of this country---particularly post-2009--- has left much to be desired.
15.I had written about this earlier. I hate myself for writing about this again. But still I do because I feel I will be doing a disservice to the country if I do not do so. I will not be worth my salt as an ex- senior bureaucrat if I did not do so. ( 6-7-11)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org . Twitter: @SORBONNE75 )