As octogenarian politician LK Advani forces his way back into national headlines, his arch rival who not long ago humbled the ‘lauh purush’, is quietly receding into oblivion.
Five years is not a long time in politics in India given that the average age of parliamentarians in the just concluded 15th Lok Sabha was about 58. But for this octogenarian politician who dominated the political landscape for more than two decades, the last five years have witnessed an unprecedented decline in his political fortunes.
From being bestowed the ‘Guru’ title by Barrack Obama to being celebrated back home as ‘Singh is King’, this ‘Sardar’ of Indian politics today faces an ignominious sunset.
This is an election in which the Prime Minister of the country of the last ten years has not even ventured out once to be with the voters that got UPA to run India for a decade. He is missing in action at the core election desk at the party. His retreat this time is not tactical at all.
Ironically, no one is missing him too simply because he has been given a quiet burial by his own party even when he is in chair. His critics might argue that he brought it all upon himself when he did not rule himself out from the PM race during a media interaction on the sidelines of the Padma Award function in April 2013. India’s longest non Nehru-Gandhi family serving Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is quietly biding his time to prepare a commoner’s life outside 7, RCR, having of late embraced silence as his only means of communication. His pitch to connect with the voters in Delhi ahead of last assembly polls was aborted when his rally in the capital got cancelled on November 30 last year.
Dr Singh took on successfully the ‘lauh purush’ in 2009 but thereafter he has presided over a government that many describe as the most corrupt since independence. In his choice for sticking to power at whatever cost, the miracle man who redeemed India from the clutches of license raj has embraced redundancy. The anonymity indeed ensured his longevity but not without severely denting his reputation of being a bold reformer.
Even as he officially said this January (during his only second press conference in his second tenure) that he would hand over the baton to the new PM, his scathing attack then on BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi raised hopes of him actively taking on the opposition to its camp. But it turned out to be a mere flash. Post the big ticket media event, Dr Singh has just shut himself up in the safe confines of 7, RCR, waiting for the inevitable to happen.
For the record though he has kept himself busy issuing the customary greetings on major festivals during the last three months. He has been among the first to condole deaths of various prominent people in India and abroad. Barring a statement on the review petition for Rajiv Gandhi assassination last month, the only other major engagement was his speech at the 3rd BIMSTEC Summit earlier this month. It is true that the post 90 born generation population has little to connect with the 81 year old academician turned politician. This perhaps explains has rather sad but total absence from this biggest festival of democracy.
An economic emergency for the country brought him into the limelight in 1991 but it was power politics that pitch-forked him to the top slot early 2004 when UPA power centre Sonia Gandhi saw in him a convenient ally.
Not that PM Dr Singh did not have his eureka moment or two. He muscled out the Left from the ruling alliance ahead of 2009 elections to make a statement globally. The Indo-US deal saw him come into his own but going forward the steely resolve proved to be the exception rather than the rule.
How will history judge Dr. Singh? On completion of 20 years of reforms in June 2011 he was asked how he would want to be remembered. The answer is elusive. But the verdict in people’s court is out there in the open.
The writer is Editor, Zee Research Group (ZRG)