History Will Record Singh as King Who Couldn't Do Justice to Stature of Chair He Occupied
All’s well that ends well, goes the adage. But in PM Manmohan Singh’s case, it has lost its original meaning. He claimed history would judge him differently and mercifully. Instead, he found a place in contemporary chronicles of independent India as the first incumbent PM to announce his retirement, six months ahead of the end of his term. There is no last date in the calendar of a political leader. Manmohan is an exception. He is the second PM to complete two consecutive terms in office after Jawaharlal Nehru. His other record is holding only three press conferences during these terms. He is also the first PM to survive two terms without his party having a majority in Lok Sabha. When during his press interaction he claimed that surviving in office for 10 years in a coalition era was one of his achievements, he wasn’t far off the mark. But he skirted mentioning the cost he and the nation paid for the compromises struck to keep his allies on UPA’s ramshackle raft. The speech, however, made it evident that Manmohan is not one of those leaders who would give credit for his success to teammates and take blame for failures. He blamed every institution, individual and ideology for his government’s dismal record. His voluntary retirement as CEO of one billion-strong India is the tragic saga of the fall of a puissant prophet who promised a mountain but couldn’t deliver a mole. A darling of the middle class and an iconic messiah for India Inc in 2004, Singh is now seen as foe in 2014. If the tone and content of his media meet were any indication, the PM came across an angry old man. His personal attack on BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi reflected his personal hurt and frustration.
If Manmohan’s 75-minute encounter with journalists was meant to salvage his and his government’s sagging image, it failed to achieve the objective. The impression given was that the nation is left with a caretaker PM who wouldn’t be able to take any firm decision for the rest of his term. Even while recounting achievements, the PM was studiously selective with facts. For example, he claimed the UPA government was able to deliver a record GDP growth during the past nine years. As an economist, he knew what sort of statistics would paint a rosy picture. But he forgot that when he took over, the economy had grown by over 8 per cent during the last year of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime. But when Manmohan would demit office, India’s economic growth would be less than 5 per cent. On every other sector, UPA’s performance is disastrous. The agriculture sector has plummeted to 4.80 per cent against 9 per cent during the last year of NDA government. Worse, manufacturing growth rate has fallen from 7.32 per cent to 1.50 per cent. Much more ridiculous was Manmohan’s justification for his government’s bad economic performance. He blamed global factors for influencing Indian economic indicators. The same PM had claimed that it was due to his government’s robust policies that India ducked global recession in 2008. If India was insulated in 2008, why did it fail in 2013? The PM and his foreign-educated economic advisers couldn’t explain. Even on inflation, UPA’s track record is worse than that of NDA. It was just 3.8 per cent (CPI) in 2004 as against nearly 10 per cent in 2013. Despite massive expenditure on welfare schemes such as MGNREGS, aimed at creating assets in the rural sector, the rate of capital formation fell drastically from 13.6 per cent in 2004 to 2.5 per cent during 2013.
Consistency has never been a virtue of our politicians; even less so for an accidental PM like Manmohan. The only consistent factor has been his personal integrity and nothing else. But Manmohan has been seeking scapegoats for the collapse of his decision-making process. His first tenure, though controversial, had a mission. He stuck his neck out on the Indo-US nuclear deal, which, however, is yet to yield the fruits it promised. His second tenure could well be defined as a government sans an agenda, vision, mission or message. It has been a period during which retaining power at any cost was the only objective. In his endeavour to hold on to office, he had the Gandhi Parivar’s full support. When Manmohan made the frank confession that he was willing to reverse government decisions if instructions—or even a suggestion—came from any Gandhi family member, it was only to retain his seat for the rest of his term. The Gandhi Parivar has realised that Manmohan as the post-2014 PM candidate would further destroy the Congress’s ability to save itself from a predictable rout. Just a few weeks ago, Sonia Gandhi had declared that the party would announce its PM candidate before the General Elections. It was a clear signal to Manmohan; one which prematurely forced him to announce his withdrawal from the A-list while he was still in office. Rahul Gandhi had summoned all Congress CMs and key Union ministers to discuss future administrative and policy decisions to be taken by the Central and state governments, but the PM wasn’t even invited. All these moves were aimed at formally anointing Rahul as Manmohan’s replacement before the countdown to the elections formally begins. By paving way for a smooth succession, the PM would go down in Indian political history as one who faithfully kept the throne warm for the scion of a family that chose him over others who were much better qualified than him. Manmohan has left it to posterity to judge his stint as India’s PM. But history would be as cruel to him as his party and fair weather friends have been. Many of his detractors speculate that in the annals of time, Manmohan’s name would be recorded as the king who diminished the stature of the chair, which he occupied for a decade.
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