Singh’s swan song marred by corruption

In the immediate aftermath of the 2009 election results, Prime Minister  Manmohan Singh in his first press appearance was quick to credit United Progressive Alliance [UPA] president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi for the party’s victory. Loyalists of the first family were quick to echo Singh’s statement, and took no time to attribute the UPA’s re-election to popular schemes like the NREGA and Rahul’s popularity amongst the youth. One can not deny the fact, that the Gandhi aura and populist schemes may have worked for the UPA in parts of rural India.

In urban areas however, a lot of swing voters preferred Singh over the National Democratic Alliance’s L K Advani for a number of reasons.

Singh had a golden chance to capitalise on this, and to assert himself as he had nothing to lose. Perhaps, Singh could have learnt a thing or two from Atal Bihari Vajpayee who never failed to leverage the fact, that he was the only acceptable face in the Bharatiya Janata Party. He could thus take some bold decisions much to the chagrin of the Sangh Parivar, or at least sections of it, such as the olive branch to Pakistan, closer engagement with the United States and off course economic reforms.

The singular issue on which Vajpayee failed was the removal of Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi in the aftermath of the 2002 riots. This many believed was one of the crucial factors which led to the BJP defeat in 2004.

While Singh has taken some risks in UPA-2, none of these, can really offset the damage caused to his personal image and that of the government. Corruption charges seem to be never ending, and whenever Singh makes some bold announcements, they get overshadowed by serious charges of graft, the latest instance being the accusations hurled on Robert Vadra by anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal who has recently set up his own political outfit, the  India Against Corruption [IAC]. Apart from this, the economy which has the capacity to overshadow other issues, is not in a particularly healthy shape at the moment.

What has cost Singh as much, if not more, than the UPA-II’s dismal economic performance and corruption is the fact that he willingly underplayed his own role in the 2009 victory, and in doing so  left the space for numerous other voices in the Congress Party, whose only claim to fame was loyalty – bordering on fealty – to the Gandhi family.

This is in stark contrast to Singh’s mentor P V Narasimha Rao who with all his shortcomings – indecision, corruption and lack of charisma – never faltered on one account; shaping the agenda of the government and checkmating rivals in the party. This helped him to take on the old guard in the Congress Party, when it came to economic liberalization.

While Rao’s legacy in Congress circles has been obliterated, because of not being obsequious to the first family. Singh’s legacy as PM on the other hand may suffer, because even after the 2009 triumph, he has behaved like a night watchman for Rahul and in the process missed a lot of scoring opportunities!

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based columnist.
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