Scams, cabinet tussle overshadow PM’s 79th B’day

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh celebrates his 79th birthday Monday in a not too happy setting. There is even talk that he might be shifted to Rashtrapati Bhavan next year.

New Delhi: A series of corruption scandals, a perceived decline in his `Dr Clean` image, an increasingly belligerent opposition, reports of infighting in his cabinet... Prime Minister Manmohan Singh celebrates his 79th birthday Monday in a not too happy setting.

There is even talk that he might be shifted to Rashtrapati Bhavan next year.

An eminent economist-turned politician who ushered in the economic reforms in the early 1990s, Manmohan Singh is now widely perceived - particularly by the influential middle class that was once his strongest backers - as the head of a corruption-hit and controversy-ridden government.

Manmohan Singh himself admitted the change in public perception recently. In his interaction with a group of editors June 29, he said: "In the situation today, day in and day out, I think we are described as the most corrupt government."

Adding to his problems is the simmering infighting among cabinet colleagues as was revealed by the note indicting Home Minister P Chidambaram in the 2G spectrum allocation sent by the finance ministry headed by Pranab Mukherjee.

Several political analysts agree on the decline of the image of `Doctor Clean`, but Congress leaders say it was "part of opposition propaganda and media manipulation".

Mridula Mukherjee, professor in New Delhi`s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said there was “corrosion in the image and effectiveness of Manmohan Singh".

"I think his tenure as the Prime Minister of United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-I was his peak time. The series of corruption scandals during UPA-II eroded Manmohan Singh`s image too, though he brought the high standards of probity, honesty, integrity and hard work to the PM`s post," Mukherjee said.

She felt that one cannot rule out the speculation that Manmohan Singh may be made President when Pratibha Patil demits office next July. "That is the only post he may accept or aspire at the age of 80 next year."

Kerala-based analyst K Sreekumar agreed. "This is probably Manmohan Singh`s last birthday as Prime Minister, if the turbulence in the Congress is an indication.

"If he is lucky and willing, he will be in Rashtrapati Bhavan (as President) next year," he added.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) general secretary Ravi Shankar Prasad said: "Manmohan Singh has been evading the crucial issue of corruption.

"It does not bode well for a Prime Minister to give a clean chit to a controversial minister like Chidambaram. Otherwise, Manmohan Singh`s regime is identified with scandals and burning problems like inflation," Prasad added.

Janata Dal-United (JD-U) general secretary Javed Raza said that history will sadly record Manmohan Singh as one who "devalued the post of prime ministership as he declined to take a stand against corruption".

"While trying to wear a hat of an honest person, he had been blaming his colleagues for the huge corruption scandals. He blamed Raja (A Raja, former communications minister) for the 2G scandal, put the blame on Prithviraj Chavan for the appointment of PJ Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner and the S-band scandal," Raza said.

Congress leader Mohan Prakash disagreed.

"There is a motivated campaign by the opposition parties which comes in handy for the TRP-hungry media and arm-chair urban middle class. But ordinary people have high regard for the Manmohan Singh-Soniaji duo."

Prakash, who started his career as an opposition leader, said: "There are issues of corruption and problems of price rise. But Manmohan Singh has taken action whenever needed."

He said the Anna Hazare movement and campaign against corruption reflected the public aspiration for transparency.

"But that does not particularly affect the future of Manmohan Singh or the UPA, as most of the states going to Assembly polls in the coming years are ruled by the opposition."

Political analyst N Bhaskar Rao feels that the problem with Manmohan Singh is that "he is a poor communicator. The Prime Minister still has not lost his reputation as a good economist and an honest politician."

Mukherjee said the power sharing arrangement between UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister worked well during UPA-I. "Now he appears to be besieged and helpless."

The arrangement was bound to corrode as the power was with Gandhi and the responsibilities were with Manmohan Singh, she added.

According to her, history will remember Manmohan Singh more as the finance minister who brought economic reforms with a minimum suffering in the 1990s than as a two-term prime minister.

"Manmohan Singh may have a better and brighter birthday in 2012," she said.


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