Will history be ‘kind’ to PM Manmohan Singh?

By Manisha Singh | Updated: Jan 08, 2014, 23:41 PM IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appeared in a rare press conference on January 03. And in a manner uncharacteristic of him, attacked BJP’s prime ministerial candidate for 2014 General Elections, Narendra Modi, saying that the Gujarat CM would make a ‘disastrous’ PM. However, by taking on Modi, the PM not only gave ammunition to the main Opposition but also opened himself to criticism with many saying that it was Congress’ tactics of diverting attention from the core issues of corruption, scams, policy paralysis, inflation and price rise.

Manmohan Singh has for long been called a remote-controlled and weak PM by many quarters. And there have been reasons for it – he has increasingly looked like a man who has not been in control; he has been quiet when the nation has been faced with contentious issues; he has looked helpless on the matters of inflation and price rise; he has been accused of turning a blind eye on the issue of corruption; he has refrained from regularly talking to the media and he has had no qualms about playing second fiddle to Sonia Gandhi and of late Rahul Gandhi.

And the fact is that all of the above will be taken into account when academicians write about Manmohan Singh in posterity, however much he may want history to be ‘kinder to him than the contemporary media’ is. However, as BJP leader Arun Jaitley said, before history, the electorate will judge the PM and if one were to go by opinion polls, there’s bad news for the Congress. As for the media, it only did its job and reported about scams the way these cases should have been handled in a free and fair democracy. Can the PM put his hand on his heart and say that he intervened effectively to stop corruption happening under his nose?

So when Manmohan Singh said in what was his third press conference in nine long years that he had tried his best to ensure that the coal blocks and spectrum were allocated in a transparent manner, he did not sound very convincing. His best was not good enough, to say the least. When the PM said that he had not had the time to go into the details of the allegations of corruption against Congress leader and Himachal Pradesh CM Virbhadra Singh, he came across as someone who was nonchalant about the whole thing and simply did not care.

Also, it was astonishing to see that the PM instead of talking tough on corruption, almost justified it by saying that people knew of issues like 2G and coal block allocations in 2009 and still voted for the UPA. What the PM failed to point out was that they were highlighted and came to light only during UPA-2. Has Manmohan Singh and the Congress not learnt anything from the anti-corruption movement and the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party? And if electoral victory justifies wrong-doings then by that account the Congress should stop taking on Narendra Modi as far as the 2002-post Godhra riots is concerned, especially after being given a clean chit by a metropolitan court in Ahmedabad.

But on the contrary, Manmohan Singh said that Modi would be a ‘disaster’ as the Prime Minister of India. Modi may or may not become the PM of this nation and if he does, it’s for future generations to decide as to what kind of PM he turns out to be. There are lots of ifs and buts involved here. Thus, instead of indulging in speculation, wouldn’t it have been better if the PM had talked about his own tenure and asked for forgiveness from the ‘aam aadmi’ for his mistakes and failings, if any. Wouldn’t it have been better if he had dwelt on what kind of leader he has been and on reasons why the people should vote for the Congress again in the next Lok Sabha polls?

Many would say that Modi can be dealt with later but as of now it is Manmohan Singh who has been a `disaster` as the PM of India - someone who started out with a lot of promise but somewhere and somehow lost the way. And maybe the way things have panned out under his tenure, 2014 may no longer see a ‘UPA-chosen PM’, however much Manmohan Singh may wish it to be.

It has been reported that a section of the Congress leaders and majority of the party cadre consider him to be a liability, going into the election mode. When one takes into account that the PM was hardly asked to campaign in the five states which went to polls recently, there may be some truth in it. Also, Rahul Gandhi calling the ordinance on convicted lawmakers passed by the Union Cabinet as ‘nonsense’ not so long ago is another example of the fact that for the Congress, Manmohan Singh has served his purpose.

The sad state of affairs can be gauged from the fact that when asked about the best moment he has had as the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh enumerated the Nuclear Deal! This was a deal which happened in his first term. What about the second term? Could the PM not find one good thing that was done in his second term? In an election year, he could have also highlighted the Right to Information, Right to Education, the Food Security Act, the Anti-Rape Law, the Lokpal Bill and so on. Or maybe unwittingly, he accepted what has been said and written for a long time now – that Manmohan Singh and Congress simply lost the will to govern in UPA-2.

Basically, the last presser, in all probability, by the only PM after Jawaharlal Nehru to complete two consecutive five-year terms, was by and large a farewell speech as perceived by many, intended to announce his retirement and pave way for Rahul Gandhi to be projected as the next leader of the Congress party. Whether he was asked to do it or he did it willingly, we may never know. But before bowing out and letting everyone know that he was not in contention as UPA’s PM candidate for 2014, Manmohan Singh made one last-ditch attempt to absolve himself of any wrong doing and make sure that his personal integrity remains intact.

Sadly and tragically, he failed to realise that it’s not good enough to be just a good man when the destiny of a billion plus people are linked to you – you have to be a good Prime Minister too and pass the litmus test in people’s court. Was Manmohan Singh able to do that – one gets the feeling that somewhere deep in his heart he knows what the answer is.