PM has everything to gain and nothing to lose by taking a bold step
Surprisingly, the language of the rich and mighty and the government leaders was almost the same, as if both had confabulated together before speaking. No doubt, some of the big industrial houses stand to suffer immensely if coal block licences are cancelled. Even some senior Congress leaders are worried about the damage caused to the ruling party’s image. The party is being accused of promoting and patronising crony capitalism by granting all government contracts and natural resources to a chosen few. The damning revelations about the political nature of the beneficiaries bolster the Opposition charge that there is nothing transparent in the manner and method by which the actual beneficiaries have been selected by the Screening Committee and later endorsed by the Prime Minister.
The strategy of one step backward and two steps forward ensures victory for a politician in the long run. But both the Prime Minister and the Congress party have been compelled by its foes to move a step forward to take many steps backwards later. While the combined Opposition was hauling the Prime Minister over the coals on the coal scam, even the most articulate Cabinet ministers were found wanting in offering a credible defence to the beleaguered Manmohan Singh. Never before has he been so majestically isolated as he was during the most vicious and poisonous personal tirade against him ever. For the first time, none of the leaders from UPA’s allies spoke or defended him as they would in the past. Even his most vocal and visible supporters like Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar have decided to keep silent and watch from the fences, the mauling of Manmohan. The Prime Minister’s silence is his only paralytic political companion. His sullen face reflects his agony. The man, once adored for wisdom and integrity, is being charged with presiding over India’s most corrupt government. Manmohan was UPA’s only credible and productive asset during the 2009 elections. He is now seen as a liability. So far, his past has been his most lethal weapon. Now his present is seen as the most serious threat to his and the Congress party’s future.
According to the Prime Minister’s advisers, the fault for the fall lies at the doorstep of the party, and not with him. For example, Manmohan appears to be willing to take the Opposition head on by cancelling, or putting in abeyance, the allotment of coal blocks. But the majority of ministers and Congress leaders are against it. They feel that it would amount to admitting to an error. It, however, defies all political logic and even expediency to sacrifice the image and the institution of the Prime Minister for the sake of protecting the financial interests of a few corporate houses. Those opposed to the idea of cancellation argue that such an extreme step would lead to disastrous economic consequences. They have conveniently forgotten that over 90 per cent of the mines remain unmined, with the coal still lying in the womb of Mother Earth. Moreover, such a move would also bring the Opposition-ruled states under judicial scrutiny and expose some BJP leaders. Above all, the question amounts to what is cheaper—the Prime Minister’s prestige or the notional loss, which a few companies would have to bear. The Congress made similar mistakes earlier when the Bofors scandal hit the headlines in the 1980s, and later last year when it refused to cancel 2G licences. Finally, the courts had to intervene and the Congress and its allies suffered politically. But the buck stops at the desk of the Prime Minister, who has everything to gain and nothing to lose by taking a bold stand as he did during the Indo-US civil nuclear deal in 2008. Not only did Manmohan win the election, he was hailed as the Prime Minister with a mission and clean methods. Does he realise that since Independence, none of his predecessors have kept the coal portfolio with themselves for as long a time as he had. Perhaps they were aware of how much the soot would soil their image.
With his inaction, he is taking the risk of joining the club of two former prime ministers—Rajiv Gandhi and P V Narsimha Rao—who started well and laid the foundations of modern India, but went down facing charges of leading tainted governments. Corporate India forgot them. If Manmohan fails, it will not give him even a footnote in its annual reports.
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