New Delhi: After the Time magazine dubbed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as an ‘underachiever’, influential US newspaper The Washington Post has tagged him as ‘a tragic figure’.
The government reacted testily and demanded an apology from The Washington Post.
In the story published with the headline ‘India’s silent prime minister becomes a tragic figure’, the newspaper has described 79-year-old Singh as someone who helped set India on the path to modernity, prosperity and power, but now is in danger of going down in history as a failure.
Referring to the slew of corruption scandals that have surfaced during his tenure as PM, the daily opines that Manmohan Singh’s image of the scrupulously honorable, humble and intellectual technocrat has slowly given way to a completely different one: a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.
The daily said that for the past two weeks, the Indian Parliament has been adjourned every day as the opposition demands Singh`s resignation over allegations of waste and corruption in the allocation of coal mining concessions.
“The story of Singh’s dramatic fall from grace in his second term in office and the slow but steady tarnishing of his reputation has played out in parallel with his country’s decline on his watch. As India’s economy has slowed and as its reputation for rampant corruption has reasserted itself, the idea that the country was on an inexorable road to becoming a global power has increasingly come into question,” the paper said.
Agreeing to political historian Ramachandra Guha’s assessment that Manmohan Singh has become a tragic figure in our history, the paper says that the irony is that Singh’s greatest selling points — his incorruptibility and economic experience — are the mirror image of his government’s greatest failings.
“Under Singh, economic reforms have stalled, growth has slowed sharply and the rupee has collapsed. But just as damaging to his reputation is the accusation that he looked the other way and remained silent as his cabinet colleagues filled their own pockets,” it added.
Detailing the history of his being anointed as Prime Minister, the paper says that Congress party led by Italian-born Sonia Gandhi had surprised many people by winning national elections that year, but she sprang an even bigger surprise by renouncing the top job and handing it to Singh.
“In him she saw not only the perfect figurehead for her government but also a man of unquestioning loyalty, party insiders say, someone she could both trust and control. From the start, it was clear that Sonia Gandhi held the real reins of power. The Gandhi family has ruled India for most of its post-independence history and enjoys an almost cultlike status within the Congress party. Sonia’s word was destined to remain law,” it said.
Under attack from a combative opposition over alleged corruption in the allocation of coal blocks and a spate of other scams, the government said it would seek an apology from the newspaper.
"How can a US daily take the matter such lightly and publish something about the prime minister of another country? I will speak to the Ministry of External Affairs and the government will seek an apology from the daily," Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni told reporters.
Soni termed the report by The Washington Post as a piece of "yellow journalism" and "baseless".
The Washington Post, meanwhile, denied it has offered an apology for the article.