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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 49, November 23, 2013

Manmohan Singh’s Golden Silence

Monday 25 November 2013

by Arun Srivastava

Ostrich-like response to the prevailing politico-economic situation and reluctance of the leadership to firmly stand by the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh’s policies and actions have been primarily responsible for the present pitiable condition of the Congress. Apparently it may appear that the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, has been putting a stiff challenge to the Congress and enjoys the trust of the Indian middle class; but the fact cannot be denied that he is not at all a pro-changer or challenger as perceived even by the Finance Minister, P Chidambaram. Modi and his party have been simply using and exploiting the follies and mistakes of the Congress and its ostrich like approach to the issues and challenges confronting the country.

Dr Singh does not fit into the typical frame-work of a traditional politician. For him, his integrity and honesty are of prime importance. And this is his strength as well as the USP. He is revered, even internationally, only for this strength of his. During his nine years as the Prime Minister this aspect of his personality got its manifestation in his actions. The most candid and assertive was his stand on the nuclear deal. He even did not bother for the survival of his government. An astute politician would seldom stake his political survival. But he did not. In fact his conviction made him pursue the economic reforms that witnessed India coming out of woods during the last two decades. It is an issue of argument whether he has been a capitalist-roader or a pragmatic economist, but one thing is certain: that it was his intellectual conviction that saw him taking the country out of the morass. Dr Singh could perceive the ground zero realities prevailing in India and feel the wind of globalisation blowing across the globe. He knew it well that the future of the mixed or socialist economy was not at all bright in the country. Eventually he opted for the economic reforms. It’s all together a different perspective what type and nature of reforms suited India most. Unfortunately no alternative model was placed before the country by any political party least of all the BJP.

At a time when the professional politicians could not comprehend the right panacea for the ailing economy of India, Dr Singh pursued the path of changing the political course and fundamentals of the Indian economy. It was undoubtedly a courageous and bold move. He even accomplished it. He was sure that the prevailing content and paradigm of the existing economic set-up neither benefited the industrial and trading sectors nor came up to the expectations of the bourgeoning middle class. It is significant to watch that the middle class, which in the beginning of the nineties was around 20 per cent, has now reached nearly 40 per cent. The reforms hastened the formation and consolidation of the middle class. Any attempt to check this process by opting for some other mode and theory of economic development and growth would have proved disastrous. It owed to the economic policies pursued by Dr Singh that at least 100 small towns emerged on the demographic map of the country during the last twenty years.

One thing is quite discernible Modi or his party could never attack the programmes and policies of the UPA Government. The BJP and its prime ministerial candidate, Modi, actually focused on corruption and non-functioning of the government. They were right in their approach as the BJP and Modi did not have an alternate concept. In fact the BJP has been the vocal protagonist of reforms and globalisation, more than the Congress. To catch the imagination of the Indian middle class and mesmerise them the BJP borrowed the images and lexicons of the US presidential elections. Like Obama the BJP tried to project Modi as the changer; a leader striving to bring about fundamental changes in the body politic and governance of the country. But the world is aware of the fact that the idiom change could not find a place on the policy table. The USA under Obama is still pursuing the old path and restless to find a new way out. Modi and his party may try to create an Obama fervour, but the performance would prove to be disastrous. It is irony that a person who is not well versed with the geopolitical and economic realities, unlike Obama, was being perceived as a harbinger of change. Even the media and intelligentsia have fell for this phraqse and even started comparing the gains and performance of UPA-2 with the UPA-1 and tried to find fault with the functioning of the UPA-2 Government. What is significant, in the absence of any concrete political and economic issue they have made corruption the single major issue.

No doubt corruption has been endemic in India. This phenomenon is not new. Even one national President of the BJP was found to be involved in corruption. One ought not to forget the fact that economic growth brings in its wake greater opportunity for corrupt practices and corruption. During the last twenty years there has been a boon in the real estate sector. Everyone knows from where the money is coming for purchase of the flats. It is not only the bank loans that facilitate the purchase of houses. I remember that when Laloo Prasad was sent to jail for the first time-a senior national leader had quipped: “It is absurd. None should forget that he has politically empowered the OBCs.” No doubt under the UPA-2 Goverment corruption acquired a vicious proportion. If the UPA Government, and particularly Dr Singh, could not take action against corrupt persons and politicians for the sake of survival of the UPA-2 Government, the Congress virtually surrendered its will to fight the menace. The BJP, specially its patriarch L.K. Advani, not Modi, could realise that making corruption an issue would benefit the party. Ever since the UPA-2 came to power, Advani launched the campaign to decry Dr Singh as the weakest Prime Minister since he knew that with Dr Singh as the leader of the UPA none can stop the Congress from coming to power again. His strategy paid off. The person who brought the UPA-2 to power is now perceived as a villain. Even today he carries on his strategy. It was part of his strategy that the BJP systemati-cally disrupted the functioning of Parliament during the last three years. Unfortunately on most occasions the Congress did not come to Dr Singh rescue. It is an irony that the person whose advice was given credence by the Western world, was denied the place that he deserved by his own partymen and countrymen. Little doubt, Dr Singh became the victim of political manoeuvrings.

At least two recent events would substantiate this dithering of the Congress: the Rahul Gandhi episode when he called upon all to tear up the ordinance on criminal politicians and the issue of his participation at the CHOGM summit in Sri Lanka. How could the Congress leadership forget that Dr Singh was the Prime Minister of India? The Congress failed to muster courage to take on the Tamil Nadu leaders. This populist move of the Congress has inflicted a serious damage to the national interest. This is basically against the spirit of the “Singh Doctrine” on foreign policy. Since Sri Lanka understands the implications of this move, it may prefer to align itself more with China. The Congress and particularly the regional political outfits must realise that a stronger Government of India can influence its neighbours. There were many ways to tackle the Tamil issue. Certainly not attending the summit was not the only way. It simply inflated the ego of the regional satraps. Not participating at the CHOGM would eventually erode the prestige of the country at the global forum. And for this ultimately Dr Singh would be held responsible and accused of betraying the cause of the country! None would come forward to share the responsibility.

Politicians usually prefer to speak all kinds of things. They think themselves to be wisest persons in the universe. It is something else that most of the time they do not speak sense and are not rational. The same has been the case with Modi. Whenever he opens his mouth he creates some faux pas. Dr Singh, in contrast, maintains silence and this has been in the present situation causing him much damage. While the politicians nurse the view that the Prime Minister should reply to their jibes, the media nurses the impression that he does not give too much credence to them. They feel that he should regularly interact with them and issue statements which make good copies. The media unwittingly played into the hands of the BJP and became pawns in the hands of the BJP leadership. It is most unfortunate that the media, instead of appreciating his work and highlighting the setbacks he received, has joined the chorus of suspecting his integrity. In this entire gamut the role of the Congress has been quite questionable.

In sharp contrast, the Congress pushed Rahul Gandhi as the future Prime Minister. This is where the Congress was caught on the wrong foot. During the last three years when Dr Singh had been under constant threat of vilification, whether it was 2G or Coalgate, the Congress could not put up a stiff challenge to the Opposition allegations. The defence put by the Congress was quite weak giving the impression that these scams and scamsters enjoyed the patronage of Dr Singh. The Congress ought to have put the debates on corruption in the correct perspective.

Apparently it appears that the economy is in mess. The reforms have received a setback. But deeper insight would make it clear that it was the fall-out of the vilification campaign launched by the BJP against Dr Singh. During the last three years the BJP and even the Left parties as well as the regional parties objected to his policies and moves of reform irrespective of the fact what the move was aimed at. Dr Singh was not allowed space. Though the UPA Government pushed the bills on FDI and Insurance, these lost their shine as the Congress was also sceptical of the government’s moves and policies. The Right to Food generated considerable heat as the Congress leadership was interested in it. The Congress leadership cannot deny that during the last three years it did not sincerely try to build public sentiment in favour of Dr Singh’s policies and programmes. Probably the Congress nursed the impression that they were not aimed at the poor or downtrodden. The Congress should have realised that Dr Singh was representing the aspirations of the bourgeoning middle class and it must do something to win over their trust. Though the party at the Jaipur chintan camp tried to identify with the aspirations of the emerging middle class, it was a half-hearted effort. The party did not put its might in it. The party may deny that it never projected Rahul Gandhi as the prime ministerial candidate, the fact remains that his style of functioning and over-reliance of the leadership on him simply strengthened this belief.

Still the Congress can retrieve some of its lost ground. While catering to the needs of the rural poor it should reach out to the urban middle class. At a time when persons of clean image and integrity are desperately needed in politics, here is an honest and upright person who is facing flak and that too on the charge of protecting and patronising corrupt persons. The Congress should do its best to ensure transparency, accountability and probity in public life. It should also see that the work of nation-building goes on at a quick pace.

The author, a senior journalist based in Kolkata, can be contacted at sriv52@gmail.com

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