Millennium Post

Man not above suspicion

The feeble attempt by senior journalist Sanjaya Baru to defend his former boss Prime Minister Manmohan Singh finds its best counter in the rise of the anti-corruption movement under social worker Anna Hazare, later usurped by Arvind Kejriwal. Manmohan Singh’s initial rise in politics and public esteem is attributable to the fact that he had all the traits of a middle class hero – educationist, economist, civil servant and impeccable personal integrity.

However, despite these attributes how ironical it is that he led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for 10 years which presented to the country unprecedented scams and unbearable rate of inflation, sufficient to drown its claims of ushering in historical reforms in the social sector. Manmohan Singh reported to take pains to add in his curriculum vitae that in addition to the above attributes, he is also a social and political worker.

Many would say that he showed first streaks of being politically clever when he made that famous statement of ‘Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion’ about his mentor P V Narasimha Rao, whom the Congressmen had started to desert him after Rao lost office of prime minister following the defeat of Congress in 1996 election. But that’s not true.

Manmohan Singh hopped jobs as chairman of the University Grants Commission, adviser to the Prime Minister, Reserve Bank of India governor, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission and chief economic adviser because of his ability to underplay his role and being obedient to his leader. Thus from being a votary for reforms under P V Narasimha Rao to presiding over a regime which put severe strain on the government finances through its dole out schemes, Manmohan Singh played the perfect role of second fiddle to his leader. That’s political trait which not many leaders possess.

Baru has tried to lay blame at Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s doors for all the ills of the regime which his boss Manmohan Singh led. In February 2011, during the only interaction he had with the television editors, Manmohan Singh had stated, ‘I have never felt like quitting, I will stay the course.
 I never felt like resigning because I had a job to do.’ During the same interaction he had defended corruption indulged into by the coalition partners saying, ‘In a coalition government, there is a coalition dharma.’ He had tried washing his hands about the failings of his government saying, ‘I am not that big a culprit as being made out to be.’ Therefore Baru, Manmohan Singh’s miseries were of his own making and not forced on him.

Manmohan Singh may have been most non-charismatic but nevertheless he has been a very effective politician. His team too consisted of men who like him did not have the political flamboyance nor the clout but succeeded on the basis of the sheer backing of their mentor. Singh’s disciples never received any retribution from him in public and he defended their ‘acts of corruption’ on party forums.

In fact the defence of his chosen ones made Manmohan Singh a preferred choice for many Congressmen who felt more comfortable in his company rather than remain in the tutelage of 10 Janpath, which washed hands off them on the first sniff of taint. The tragic exit of
family loyalist Kunwar Natwar Singh is a case in point.

The veteran diplomat-politician who was instrumental in the formation of Congress (Tiwari), which consisted of family loyalists, was the first to be dropped on the basis of his son’s name appearing in Paul Volcker’s report, which was part of UN investigations in Iraq. Natwar in fact was the only casualty of the report worldwide as in absence of any evidence other countries refused to act against their citizens.

Natwar Singh had to go because Manmohan Singh as prime minister visualised a different course for foreign policy which culminated in the signing of the nuclear deal and the market reforms thereafter. With Natwar Singh in the saddle it would have been difficult to give the kind of push which Manmohan himself provided in the conclusion of the nuclear deal.

Manmohan Singh had no qualms in changing the yardsticks when it came to defending his own men in the government – Iqbal Singh, Anand Sharma, Ashwani Kumar and Pawan Kumar Bansal. He even retained M S Gill as long as he could. All through his tenure in the office Manmohan Singh proved that defending the indefensible was the hallmark of his politics.

Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry Iqbal Singh’s name figured prominently as one of the facilitator’s for Kashinath Tapuria and Hasan Ali Khan, who are alleged to have laundered the bribe money paid in the 2G spectrum allotment scam. Several people including Telecom Minister A Raja lost their job but not Iqbal Singh.

Similarly Commerce Minister Anand Sharma was in the eye of the storm when information about Wal-Mart spending money on Indian establishment for allowing foreign direct investment in retail surfaced. Sharma survived the controversy thanks to the backing he got from the prime minister.
The Congress party even tried to brazen out of the crisis created by then Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and then Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal. It’s another matter that the prime minister extracted huge political price for defending his men. While he defended Iqbal Singh, he cared little about the political loss UPA suffered for not defending Raja and DMK MP N Kanimozhi, which led to snapping of ties between the two allies.

Therefore to say that the prime minister always did the bidding of Congress president Sonia Gandhi would not be correct. Whenever he decided to have his way, be it the nuclear deal or the introduction of FDI in multi-brand retail, Gandhi rallied the party behind the government. However, this is not to suggest UPA chairperson should be absolved of her role in undermining the office of the prime minister of the country.

Manmohan Singh’s actions had a political method. He left the accountability of his government to parliament in the hands of party leadership. A seeker of jobs, he did his master’s bidding without qualms, which in turn gave him all support and affection. Where is the scope for complain?

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
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