Where is PM’s authority?

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As United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government celebrates a year in power in its second stint, questions on Prime Minister’s authority are being raised. Iftikhar Gilani reports.
Dr. Manmohan Singh’s may be firmly saddled in the prime minister’s chair, but off late there are some questions about his hold on the cabinet. At least the union ministers have been blatantly defying him. The latest defiance comes from Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh despite the PM writing to the ministers not to comment on other ministries.
Had Ramesh followed the PM’s directive, the situation where he criticise the Home Ministry for what he described as paranoid and alarmist attitude in barring imports from Chinese telecom major Huawei on security grounds – that too while in China, may not have arisen.
His comment put him in the company of Shashi Tharoor – who had to quit the ministry because of the IPL controversy – for inviting Saudi Arabia to intervene on Kashmir solution which goes against India’s declared policy of no third party intervention.
Even Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad know the real authority is with Sonia Gandhi as they spoke to her in the Lok Sabha during an adjournment to get the caste count included in Census instead of approaching Dr Singh who was also present there.
Dr Singh has not been able to prevent ministers like Kapil Sibal and Mamata Banerjee speak outside on discussions in the Cabinet. Nor could he pull up Mamata and M K Alagiri for remaining absent from most of the cabinet meetings.
It suits the BJP to demand dismissal of Ramesh from the ministry for publicly supporting Huawei but it forgets that Huawei prospered in India because of an out of way support by the NDA by allowing the Chinese manufacturer to install equipment for not only private telecom operators but also for the public sector BSNL and MTNL.
China tested India’s reaction on its entry into infrastructure sectors through Huawei as other Chinese companies followed suit in other sectors like shipping, roadways, power generation, automobiles, transformers and even toys. The Huawei-type Chinese companies had spread their tentacles so much during the NDA rule that the UPA government had little option but to allow them to do business in India.
Informed sources say the National Security Advisory Council had even passed a resolution to stop Huawei expansion in India. It even came out with a research paper on the dangers of allowing the Chinese inroads in the core sectors. Its warnings were, however, dumped by the UPA government. It only indirectly meant Dr Singh is a strong advocate of the Chinese presence in India and observers wonder why pull up Ramesh who is echoing only his views.
For records sake, the Prime Minister scolded Ramesh for criticising the Home Ministry’s policy and asked him better not comment on other ministries, but all the same he is reported to have told the minister that there is “no confusion” in the government on “constructive engagement” with China.
The PMO sources said Dr Singh rang up Ramesh to tell him that it was “advisable for Cabinet colleagues not to make comments on the functioning of other ministries, especially with regard to relationship with important neighbours like China” and that “there is no confusion in our policies towards China and we continue to strive for constructive engagement with Beijing”.
Meanwhile in reaction to Ramesh claiming that India’s security establishment was putting restrictions on Chinese investments in India and “imagining demons where there are none,” the Home Ministry asserted that the government was not showing any discrimination to the Chinese companies.
“It is wrong to say that the security establishment was biased against the Chinese,” Home Secretary G K Pillai said. “Chinese companies are already present in India in a big way. They are working in a variety of sectors, including telecommunications sector. I don’t think there is any discrimination happening from the government’s side,” he said.
The Congress party is also unhappy over Ramesh’s remarks, but cautious in comments because of his proximity to 10 Janpath. 

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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