Manmohan Singh – Man of diminishing returns for Congress

Notwithstanding the Opposition, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party rubbing it in and saying that if the Prime Minister had any self-respect, he should resign, almost everyone knew that Manmohan Singh would not step down.

Known to be a staunch Congress loyalist, he would not embarrass the party at the fag end of his second term in office and with General Elections 2014 round the corner, even if he had been almost humiliated by the scion of Gandhi family in full public glare. Also, by stepping down he would not want to make things uncomfortable for the woman who is solely responsible for him occupying the top post in the country.

And it is also believed that he would not express his anger in public against Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and take him to task for undermining his position by trashing the ordinance cleared by the Union Cabinet that was meant to protect convicted lawmakers. So, even though Manmohan Singh has left the people of this country frustrated more often than not by choosing to remain silent on contentious issues, his reactions and his demeanour in times of adversity still shock most of us and force us to wonder as to what exactly goes on in his mind.

When Rahul denounced the ordinance passed by the Union Cabinet headed by the PM as ‘nonsense’ and as something that should be torn away, what shocked most was not the stand taken by Rahul but the language he used. It almost reflected a disdain for the PM and his style of functioning. Thus, even though the Congress VP said recently that his language was perhaps wrong but his sentiment regarding the ordinance was right, the fact is that the PM most likely will not be able to redeem himself from here on and salvage his image which has already taken a hit in the recent past. And even though Sonia has been repeatedly praising a reportedly upset PM after her son’s outburst, the damage has been done irreparably.

There have been times in the past when reports of a rift between Sonia and Manmohan have come to the fore. For example, the two were reported to have disagreed on the issue of the sacking of Pawan Kumar Bansal as Railways Minister and Ashwani Kumar as Law Minister, but the UPA chairperson never spoke a word against the PM publicly. And if one can go back in history, the only person from the Gandhi family who probably spoke in a language reminiscent of Rahul regarding Singh was his father and former PM of India, Rajiv Gandhi. In 1985, Rajiv referred to the Planning Commission as a bunch of jokers. Manmohan Singh at that time was the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission. However, it can be said that while Rajiv’s outburst was not only intended for Singh, what Rahul did at the Press Club of India on September 27 is being construed as a direct indictment of the Prime Minister and maybe some of the senior Congress leaders.

Thus, if it is being bandied about that Manmohan was made the fall guy because Rahul could emerge as the hero in the eyes of the people, then there is a point in it. Even though Rahul’s move has brought the divisions between the party and the government to the fore, the fact is that the ordinance and the bill, which have now been withdrawn, had come under heavy criticism from all quarters and there was no way that the Rahul brigade would let the main Opposition, the BJP, gain brownie points for going to the President and asking him not to sign the ‘unconstitutional’ bill.

Secondly, the Congress may go to the polls in 2014 without a prime ministerial face but in all likelihood it will not project Singh as their PM candidate. So with Manmohan Singh’s political career almost over, Rahul and his men realised that it was time to go for the kill and project the Congress as a party which can take on its own government if need be. Although Rahul has a lot to answer in the way he chose to trash the ordinance, he probably realised that in the process of doing so, even if there was a loss of face for the PM, the gain for him and the party would be immense. It`s another matter that there have been negative ramifications of it too and the UPA allies are reportedly angry at the way Rahul handled the whole issue.

Rumours have been doing the rounds for a while now that the young leaders of the Congress party, purportedly close to Rahul, are not happy with Singh’s style of functioning and they want the Congress VP to take centre-stage. They also reportedly feel that with the next General Elections round the corner, Manmohan Singh has almost become a liability for them, especially with BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on a roll and taking on the PM at every given opportunity and projecting him as one of the weakest prime ministers in the history of India.

Meanwhile, Singh, who had once put his foot put down regarding the nuclear deal during his term in UPA-1, is looking increasingly hapless and as a man not in control in UPA-2. When his government was hit by a series of scams, like 2G and CWG, he chose either to blame what was happening on ‘coalition compulsions’ or remain silent. The PM could never give convincing answers to explain as to why he did not stop former telecom minister A Raja from manipulating distribution of telecom licenses.

When the Pakistani Army and terrorists from across the border killed Indian jawans and innocent citizens, he more often than not failed to put balm on their wounds and was criticised for being quiet or reacting late. He was attacked by the Opposition for soft-peddling as far as dealing with Pakistan was concerned. When the economy of the country took a hit, he was accused of policy paralysis and not taking enough measures in time. But, even amidst such raging storm, Singh was able to successfully protect one thing that nobody ever questioned – his personal integrity.

However, the controversy regarding the allocation of coal blocks brought the one thing that he was most protective about under the scanner and the scam virtually at the doors of Manmohan Singh. The PM held the coal portfolio during November 2006 and May 2009 and the CAG report found serious irregularities in coal block allocations during the period 2005-2009. Worse followed when Ashwani Kumar, handpicked by the PM to be his Law Minister, was caught trying to tamper with the Supreme Court-monitored CBI report on coalgate. It was said then that the man was trying to protect Singh. The PM subsequently made a statement in the Rajya Sabha on August 27, after the Opposition had repeatedly stalled Parliament on the issue of missing coal files, and said that there had been no wrongdoing, not many took what he said at face value.

Thus, it is sad but true - Dr Manmohan Singh has been reduced to a forlorn figure, unable to take any decision and whose value and importance in his own party is diminishing by the day and who is seen as a mute spectator of corruption and non-governance. Gone are the days when he enjoyed a certain appeal in the middle class and was considered by the Congress party as an asset before the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. As they say – how times change.

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