Perhaps the least noticed part of Obamas inauguration was that Robert Gates,the only member of the Cabinet who was retained from the Bush administration,did not attend the ceremony. He was the transitory President for the few minutes during which Bush had gone and Obama had not been sworn in. America,powerful as it is,takes no chances. There has to be a Chief Executive always in place.
This is not the way UPA is behaving. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has gone in for a timely bypass and we all wish this universally respected man the best of health. But the quadrille being played in Delhi as to who his stand-in is defies the best comedy writer. There has been a decision that no matter what,India can have many PMs-in-waiting but none in attendance. So the President had to be roped in to head the delegation to meet Nuzurbayev. Then since she could not go to Hyderabad House (government,not State territory) the whole thing had to be moved to Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Why? What is the UPA afraid of? After all,Prime Ministers are human and occasionally they need to rest after a bypass operation. Nehru wanted to retire when he was 70 in 1959 but the Nation would not allow it. So he had a holiday instead,his first in 12 years as PM. He was overworked but Indias love for him was so cruel that he drove himself to death by overworking five years later. He had a stroke after the 1962 war and yet he had to carry on.
The Prime Minster needs a full month off to rest. I hope he gets it. There should be no nonsense about a variety of people being roped in to do his many duties because the fear of someone being called Acting Prime Minister. After all Gulzarilal Nanda was Acting Prime Minister twice. But in those days India conducted its government by rules not whims. Indira Gandhi changed all that. She abolished the distinction between her office and her person. So what happens depends very much on personal rather than procedural matters. The advent of fragile coalitions had entrenched this peculiar behaviour.
It may seem that I am making too much of this. But mature grown-up countries conduct their governments on defined rules and not ad hoc arrangements. Even if the Prime Minister never needs to go away,there should always be a designated person who is charged to take over. Call him or her Deputy Prime Minister or not. India is behaving like a monarchy where Kings suspect that conspiracy is forever afoot to displace them by poisoning or worse. This is not the Delhi Sultanate; it is a Republic about to enter its 60th year.
Maturity is also in order if India is to face up to Obama. The love-fest with Bush is over and now India has to compete with other countries to gain attention. Obama is focused on terrorism and on the Afghan-Pakistan border. India did not get a mention in his first few days and may not get it for a long time. But as a member of G20 and perhaps G10,India does not need to clamour for attention. It is a powerful economic engine and Americas strategic partner thanks to the nuclear deal. Obama will need India by April,when the G20 meet to discuss IMF reform. In this meeting India will have to play the role UK played in Bretton Woods with China playing the USs role. Then US had the money and the UK,or rather Keynes,the ideas. This time China has the money and the creditor status but it is usually shy of proposing big reform. India should have a blueprint ready for IMF reform,which allows it to serve like a bank where surplus countries can hold their reserves and not have to hold US Treasury bills,which only floods the economy with cheap credit.
India can be at the forefront with the economic expertise it has. It is time for Team Manmohan to get cracking. The Prime Minister can give the lead after his well-deserved rest.