Time to smell the coffee, Prime Minister

While it remains to be seen how history will judge Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister, for now it would not be incorrect to state, that a combination of poor governance, scams and policy paralysis in UPA-II have diminished his stature and converted the India story from reality into near history. Four years ago, the PM’s personal standing was at its peak when the Congress party won 206 seats, with him having emerged as the undisputed choice of the middle classes. Though, the Congress Party was reticent to give the credit for the electoral victory to the Indian PM.<br><br>While it is true, that Singh is not wholly responsible for the abysmal performance and failure of <br>UPA-II. There are other factors such as cantankerous allies, certain sections within the Congress party vehemently opposed to bold moves in economic and foreign policy and off course, the hubris and complacency which has crept into the government due to its re-election and last but not least, the continuous fumbling and bumbling by the country’s principal opposition the BJP.<br><br>Yet it would be a bit unrealistic and naïve to assume that the PM is helpless. For if he deserves credit for the high economic growth rate attained between 2004 and 2011, he and his advisors can not be absolved of the responsibility of economic mismanagement and fiscal profligacy which has led to a sudden dip. The explanation, that there is a recession world wide makes some sense, but can not be used as a means of justifying five per cent growth when India’s potential is higher.<br><br>Similarly, if in the realm of foreign policy the prime minister deserves credit for taking a bold initiative in the form of the Indo-US nuclear deal he also can not escape the flak for following a utopian policy vis-a-vis China, where just to keep Beijing in good humour, India has reduced its strategic options, and in the bargain reduced its leveraging capabilities. Due to Singh’s fixation with not annoying Beijing, New Delhi has been reluctant to play its role in South China – much to the disappointment of India’s new found ally Washington DC.<br><br>Most importantly, while it is true that there is no evidence to suggest that the PM him self is involved in any corruption case but a man his known by the company he keeps, and some of the individuals who he has sheltered have not distinguished themselves by their conduct. The prime minister’s dilly dallying over taking action against such individuals has done no favours to his own image.<br>Singh’s failure in UPA-II can be attributed to a number of factors.<br><br>Firstly, he has failed to utilise the mandate he received from the middle classes and instead allowed sections of the Congress party to convey the message that the party won solely due to rural India and the welfare schemes – which were the brain child of the Gandhi family – initiated by the government. While it is no one’s argument, that rural India should be neglected or schemes should be dismantled, there is need not only for making these schemes more effective but also generating growth which facilitates the spending on not only welfare schemes, but infrastructural projects which are the hallmark of a sound economy.<br><br>Second, while the PM grew in stature due to the pragmatism he exhibited in both foreign and economic policy he has not shown any of the same in UPA-II but on the issue of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail and engagement with Pakistan. Barring these two instances, the foreign policy and economic policy has been extremely lack luster.<br><br>Third, Singh has been not been very sensible as far as advisors – political and non-political are concerned. The PM has not only been a bit too trusting of bureaucrats, but also banked for advise on individuals who lack any mass base and do not have any real understanding of the pulse of the people. This is true for the technocrats surrounding him, as well as certain political figures. This has resulted in a disconnect not only with the public opinion but also his own party.<br><br>Fourth, while it is know that Singh is not the greatest of orators, he has been extremely poor in reaching out to the public at times when even some words of assurance. The only exception being the time when his government went ahead with  economic reforms.<br><br>Fifth, Singh in his second tenure was focused more on foreign policy, then domestic issues and as a result he does not have much to show. This is in stark contrast to his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee who not only left an indelible mark in the realm of foreign policy, but also focused on domestic issues and came up with path breaking programs such as the National Highway project.<br>They say a week is a long time in politics, and while there is a likelihood of the UPA mustering up a third term. It will take some drastic steps for Manmohan Singh to undo all the damage which has been done to his reputation, and the country’s image, over the last few years and months. Perhaps it is time that the prime minister smelt the coffee and either did something to rectify this. For otherwise, Singh – one of the key architects of the India story – would be remembered for <br>ruining it.<br>The author is a New Delhi-based columnist
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