New Delhi : Tourism Minister Ambika Soni has attacked Sports Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar for breaking the "mantra of cabinet collective responsibility" by airing his criticism of economic policies in the open.
In the Devil's Advocate interview with Karan Thapar broadcast Sunday on CNN-IBN, Soni found fault with Aiyar for raising his concerns outside the cabinet, even if his remarks happened to subsequently match those of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Asked why it was right for the prime minister to express such views and not for Aiyar to do so, she said: "That's the prime minister's prerogative … I believe there's a certain propriety which one does follow when one is a member of the cabinet."
She added: "When you are part of the cabinet, as Mani is and I am, we have a number of opportunities of voicing our concerns, raising issues which bother us, with the cabinet. That's how it should be.
"I feel when you speak outside it shows that you are not in sync with what's happening. Which is not true because the cabinet often discusses issues (that) Mani raised publicly."
Karan Thapar: Mani should not have spoken out?
Soni: That's how I feel.
Thapar: But now it appears, a week afterwards, that the sentiments Mani was expressing, that the 'aam admi' (common man) ought to be at the centre of the government's focus, is the very sentiment that the prime minister expressed at the CII.
Soni: A cabinet minister is not the prime minister.
Speaking about Aiyar's example of differences of opinion between cabinet ministers over priorities of development, Soni said such fights should not be spoken about outside cabinet. She said Aiyar had broken the "mantra of cabinet collective responsibility".
"This is exactly what I feel… There may be a debate within the cabinet, there may be discussions on issues like the one Mani raised, with the prime minister and the concerned minister (but) you've got to fight it out there.
"And if a fight has taken place, if a discussion has taken place, you are not supposed to speak about it outside. If we don't follow this mantra of cabinet collective responsibility, I don't think any government can function."
Soni also said that Manmohan Singh's appeal to the wealthy to share what they have with the poor was aimed at "touching the conscience of the rich".
"We've seen it not only in India but around the world that you cannot have those who move forward and those who remain backward aamne samne (face to face). There will be confrontation. No, that's not possible. And the prime minister has to do this."
She said the time had come for the prime minister to tell the beneficiaries of government policies of the last three years to now do something for the 'aam admi'.
"We came (to power) on the promise of giving a better deal to the aam admi. Now the aam admi must be an equal participant in this growth structure.
"It is not enough to say our growth rate is 9 percent or we're doing so well or our industry has bought big business enterprises around the world. Fine, that's great as a nation, but somewhere down the line all of us must feel that it's coming to my doorstep also.
Thapar: So, in a sense, the prime minister is re-emphasising the centrality of the aam admi?
Soni: Absolutely! Absolutely! And he has the moral right, the stature and the leadership position to do that.
The minister denied that the prime minister's comments were "election-oriented" or because of pressure from the Left Front.