Shallow contempt? No…only deep disappointment!!

In this week’s Mint’s Lounge, Aakar Patel takes head-on Ramachandra Guha on his article on the Prime Minister (Telegraph, December 31 2011) and through him the middle-class’s contempt for the Prime Minister and terms it ‘shallow’. (To be sure, Mr. Guha does not use the word contempt, he only cites disappointment)  Now, I should admit, I was clearly amused when I read Patel’s column and thought if he lived in a different India; and, when I fished out Guha’s article I wondered if he even read the article that he tries to counter point-by-point!!

Patel concludes his column writing: “Perhaps it is obvious that Singh is a disappointment if not a failure and I’m missing something.” Of course, you do Mr. Patel!

For starters, let me clear, I agree with you (and so do Mr. Guha, if you would read his piece carefully) that UPA-1 had not been a disappointment (at least as much not as UPA-2, Mr. Guha may add) at all. RTI, NREGA, and RTE  were indeed long-reaching legislations, whatever qualms one may have on the fine print. And, yes add the Nuclear deal too. So let us be clear much of the disappointment is with respect to the Prime Minister’s second innings. In fact, the electorate that you blame for having dealt a ‘poor’ ”hand” rewarded the incumbent government by returning 65 more of their members to the Parliament and even freed them of the influence of the Left. It was very clear that BJP, the main opposition party, was nowhere in the reckoning for another election any time soon, which meant the Prime Minister was especially on a stronger wicket in his second innings. That he had just stood his ground and won on the Nuclear Deal against much of the reported opposition within his party, and that his party went to polls projecting him as the Prime Minister only added to his strength. And his personal image for probity and integrity in public life was still very much admired. So, his performance in the second innings should be viewed in this light.

However, what followed the high of May 2009 was a gradual downfall which turned into a cascade in 2011. So why did I (a middle class Indian) get disappointed with Dr. Singh and why I agree more with Mr.Guha than you?

Yes, as you write, Dr. Manmohan Singh did ask Mr. Raja to step down, but when??!!! In the face of overwhelming circumstantial evidence, Dr. Singh remained quiet and indecisive! Only when he was left with no choice by the Supreme Court, did he yield.

“I don’t think Singh needs a reporter to tell him that he should be seen on television meeting villagers, as Guha thinks he should. The fact is that he chooses not to. The question is why.” you write. But it is not a question of why! As Prime Minister of the country, he is answerable to the nation, either through the press or the floor of the House, and Dr. Singh has failed to engage either the Press or the Parliament proactively on issues of national importance. At the height of the pressure on his government to act against corruption, he did not offer a convincing reply. His mode of engagement was more damage control in nature and that too in the form of a discussion with select editors under controlled environment.

You list his ‘delivery of taken for granted high growth’ as one his achievement, but may I request you not to show shallow regard for Mr. Narasimha Rao who was as equal a driving force, if not more, as Dr. Singh in setting us on the path of high growth and the successive governments which did not change course. And Dr. Singh has himself agreed recently that he does not have a magic wand to control inflation, at least on one occasion. And when was the last time the industry leaders wrote letters to the government of the day (on whose pleasure their businesses depend day by day) on their deep concerns on the state of economy and governance?

Of course, you do not enjoy the privileges of Mr.Guha in knowing much about the advisers of Dr. Singh. And I should admit, I know even less! (In fact, I had to strain to recall the name of the two advisers). But can’t you see that the political judgment of the government is nowhere! Starting from the Telengana fiasco in 2009 to the way the government handled the IAC movement in 2011 reaching the nadir of its political judgment at the stroke of the new year when the Rajya Sabha was adjourned under chaotic circumstances. And yes, let me add so as to remind you, in between 2009 and 2011, the government vetoed the objection of the Leader of Opposition on the appointment of CVC and tried to bulldoze its way only to be stopped by the Supreme Court (Wonder what was the political compulsion on this issue?).

Now, to a relatively minor but important issue. You write in answer to Mr. Guha’s critique, that Dr. Singh was defeated once in a Lok Sabha election and in turn imply that there is no reason to expect any different result this time. But by that logic, Indira Gandhi should not contested elections, nor should have Kamaraj!

You add that even after winning a Lok Sabha seat, Dr. Singh may continue to draw power from Smt. Sonia Gandhi. This may indeed be true, but at least he would have some show of public approval to strengthen his case. But you miss the big point of Mr.Guha – Smt. Gandhi needs Dr. Singh as much as he needs her power. And in this equation the biggest and may be the only weapon that Dr. Singh had was his integrity.  And that is the weapon he has chosen to disband at the hour he needed it the most! Makes one wonder if he is suffering from a Karna-like curse or whether he has willingly chosen to disarm himself!!

Having said all this, I would not have cared as much if it was an ordinary politician. I would have expected as much. But my disappointment, and so I believe the disappointment of people like Mr. Guha, stems from this fact that I used to respect Dr. Singh much. In a time when almost every politician was corrupt, I respected and adored the rare politician who was known for his integrity in public office. I saw him as one of my own and one of my millions of fellow honest citizens, not the run of the mill politician. I was proud that he was our Prime Minster. And so, when he suddenly turned silent and indecisive on the face of the some of the massive scams in recent memory, it was a shocker.

And I disagree with your inference ‘martyrdom’ is not heroic. Let us not show disregard the sacrifices of those have given up power to uphold their own (and universal) principles and yet continue to serve the people. Let us not dismiss those honest public officials who against enormous odds stand by their principles. The fact is, Dr. Singh could have resigned. He could have served the nation by that very act alone –  by sending a message and by serving an inspiration to the future generations. He could not continued to serve the people even without the office. In fact, his leaving making a noise would have been such a big liability for the party that it may very well have heeded to him. But he chose not to do so.

With each passing day, as his silence and inaction (or late action) grows, the disappointment only grows larger. And makes one wonder, as do Mr.Guha, if Dr. Singh is just clinging to his office. You write rhetorically “To what end does he cling to office?”. But for me the question is not a rhetoric! It is very real. Let me assure you, if at all I get to meet Dr. Singh some day, this is the one question for which I would like to know the answer.