The resignation of Mr Suresh Prabhu, the Union minister for power, sets a kind of precedent which the democratic process in India could have done without. Mr Prabhu resigned not out of his own volition or at the request of the head of the government, the prime minister. His resignation came at the behest of his party chief, Mr Bal Thackeray, the supremo of the Shiv Sena. This strikes at the very root of governing through a cabinet. It is an important assumption in the cabinet style of governance that the head of the cabinet, the prime minister, in this case, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has the prerogative to choose his own ministers. This is true even in a coalition government like the one Mr Vajpayee heads. There may be pressures from coalition partners but the prime minister should have the final say on the size of the cabinet, the distribution of portfolios and choice of ministers. It will not be an exaggeration to say that Mr Vajpayee is in the process of surrendering this prerogative. He has allowed Mr Thackeray to call the shots. There has been not even a whimper from the prime minister. It would appear that Mr Vajpayee, whether he likes it or not, is being held to ransom by the Shiv Sena leader. This can only have a detrimental effect on morale as it suggests that the prime minister is not in a position to exercise and exert his control.
Mr Thackeray’s reason for forcing Mr Prabhu to put in his papers shows his sectarian and chauvinistic attitude. He said that Mr Prabhu had failed to do anything for Maharashtra and to work on the Shiv Sena agenda. Mr Prabhu was the power minister for the whole of India just as Mr Vajpayee is the prime minister of the entire country. It can hardly be expected that a member of the Union cabinet should work for his own native province. Mr Thackeray’s charge should have made it imperative for Mr Vajpayee to speak and to assert that his government is for the entire country. Mr Vajpayee, as is his wont these days, has decided to keep silent in the face of Mr Thackeray’s tirade. It would be unfair to Mr Vajpayee to interpret his silence as consent but he has only himself to blame if he is seen to be weak and not in control. Mr Vajpayee carries an enormous responsibility; he cannot allow this responsibility to be challenged or eroded by having lesser leaders dictate terms to him. There is only one man who is in a position to evaluate Mr Prabhu’s performance as a minister. That man’s name is Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee who has not uttered a word through the entire episode. Yet, not so long ago, Mr Vajpayee could unequivocally reject Ms Mamata Banerjee’s demand that she be made the railway minister. Is Mr Thackeray, for reasons unknown, the omniscient He who must be obeyed'