SHAKESPEARE’S Macbeth has a poignant quote: “Nothing in his life/Became him like the leaving it”. This refers to the execution of Thane of Cawdor for treason, meaning that he died with more dignity than he lived. This quote is used on occasions to describe the departure of people with dismal track records. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had such a chance during his valedictory press conference, but he lost it due to his proverbial cowardice. Even then, he has run out his race!
India’s Prime Minister is an elected and functional office, but for the last ten years ‘filled-in’ by an unelected ‘appointee’ of the ‘high command’. Hopefully, this time, a truly elected and functional person will occupy the chair. While so, let us do an appraisal of the one who has ‘retired’ from the race, before looking at those at the starting block!
Jag Suraiya, the noted columnist, has made the task easy with this humorous narrative. Some years ago an American entrepreneur invented the perfect pet for people who were too busy to keep regular pets who need a lot of exercise and caring: he invented the pet-rock. Unlike other pets, this pet-rock did not need to be taken for walks, or be given food, or taken to the vet. The pet-rock just sat there, totally immobile and completely silent.
India went one better. With its infinite genius for jugaad, India invented a Prime Minister in Manmohan Singh (MMS) who, like the American entrepreneur’s pet-rock, just sat there and did nothing right for ten long years.
But, unobtrusively, he has done immense harm to India’s governance, economy, socio-economic fabric, ecology, security and human rights. His economic policies were centered on the MNC-diktat to “create a market of 30 crore middle and high-income Indians” and throw crumbs at the other 90 crore! While bringing about temporary GDP growth, these policies have led to rabid resource loot, sickening corruption, unemployment, inequity, poverty, price rise and avalanche of black-money.
Hunger is pervading one-quarter of India. According to the latest Global Hunger Index, India ranks 65 out of 79 nations and, what’s worse, it has remained on the same position for the last ten years. The index has been worked out by the International Food Policy Research Institute as a composite of three equally weighed indices: under-nourishment, child mortality rate and proportion of underweight children. According to the Report, as against China’s 5.2 per cent and war-torn Rwanda’s 19.7 per cent, almost 23 per cent of Indians are battling hunger and need immediate support. Anything above 10 per cent on the scale is considered serious. This is the kind of super-pauper State this pet-rock has built through his extractive policies!
Manmohan Singh has done immense harm toIndia’s governance, economy, socio-economic fabric, ecology, security and human rights. Hiseconomic policies were centered on the MNCdiktat to “create a market of 30 crore middle and high-income Indians”!
The ecology too has been devastated. MMS kept the environment ministry structurally weak so that whenever there is conflict between destructive ‘development’ and ecology, the former is given precedence at the cost of the latter. Being insensitive to the fragile and collapsing ecosystem, he has been bullying the Ministry of Environment to give clearance for ecologically disastrous industrial and infrastructure projects. He went to the extreme extent of appointing a ‘compliant’ Environment Minister at the fag-end of his tenure, who, within days, abandoned the Western-Ghats ecology protection scheme and cleared 70 projects that include agriculture-killing Gorakhpur Nuclear Plant (GNPP) in Haryana and forest-denuding POSCO steel/mining project in Odisha. MMS promptly went and laid the foundation stone of GNPP!
TRANS-BOUNDARY movement of polluting technologies and hazardous wastes has been rampant during MMS’ time. His very first decision in 2004 to mindlessly promote Special Economic Zones with 100 per cent FDI in real estate business has reduced urbanisation to mere property development. It has also terribly skewed the market for urban land, making it far beyond the reach of ordinary people. He now plans to finish off India’s agriculture by allowing 100 per cent FDI in farm land!
In his ‘farewell’ press conference, MMS was fervently hoping that historians would give him a better treatment than what was being meted out to him in the media, and by the Opposition.
He must be aware of what Shoma Chaudhury of Tehelka wrote: “History will judge him (Dr Singh) harshly for betraying faith; for failing the chance it gave him. It is not everybody who gets two shots at being the Prime Minister of the most populous democracy in the world. To get to be so as its unelected head is even rarer. Unfortunately for Manmohan Singh, so stark and unexpected have the betrayals been, history has begun to train its lens on him even before his term is done.”
Afflicted with a sense of guilt, MMS kept insisting that he was the same person that he was ten years ago and that he had served with utmost ‘dedication and integrity’. True, but his ‘dedication’ was not to the Indian people, but to the agenda of his US/World Bank masters. He imported Montek Ahluwalia from Washington DC and packed PMO with inbreeds to zealously pursue this agenda. They have made India a client-state of the USA. For this, MMS went to the extreme extent of buying MPs to support the Indo-US Nuclear Deal and then purred to President Bush that the whole of India loved him. Now, he has openly acknowledged this dubious deal as his best work as PM.
As it turns out, nuclear deal was a decoy for defence rip-off. Although it remains a dud deal on energy, with little prospect of delivering a single operational nuclear power plant for years to come, it has become a open sesame to major US arms sales. When MMS visited White House in September 2012, among the gifts he presented to President Obama, was a commitment to purchase $5 billion worth of arms. At the height of L’affaire Khobragade, while a deceptive drama was being enacted to deceive the public, a mega defence contract—a $1.01-billion deal for supply of six additional C-130J military transport aircraft—was awarded to the USA. The government-to-government weapon contracts between the US and India, with no competitive bidding or transparency, heavily burdens Indian taxpayers, forcing them to subsidise American military-industrial complexes. These transactions are the largest source of kickbacks for India’s corrupt carpetbaggers. Indeed, MMS has served his masters with ‘integrity’!
THE pet-rock has severely eroded several institutions of governance—Parliament, JPC, ministries, CAG, Election Commission, CVC, NHRC, UPSC, civil services and army—in his bid to propitiate the dynasty and powerful vested interests! Judiciary and Attorney General were also not spared. The latter has been made to submit fudged files/affidavits in courts to obtain favourable orders. PMO, once respected, has been reduced to a hub for scheming, scandals and skullduggery, morphing a functional democracy into dysfunctional kleptocracy. This is the legacy of MMS.
Former IAS Officer Sanjeev Ahluwalia, blood-brother of Montek Ahluwalia, must have had a ring-side view of the shenanigans of the Manmohan-Montek duo. So he directs his anguish at MMS thus: “Please shed your intellectual robes and become the babu you really have been, betraying yourself time and again, turning a Nelson’s eye to massive corruption and allowing decision-making to be subverted by unconscionably partisan politics and sloth…People voted for you in 2009 based on your record of the earlier five years on the belief that more and better things were to come….But, instead, like the collapse of the mountains above Kedarnath, the lofty edifice built up by reputation and public expectations cracked and collapsed under the weight of timidity, poor political instincts but, most importantly, betrayal.”
I thought ‘betrayal’ is a harsh word for MMS. Then I remembered our first meeting in 1975 over dinner at Chandigarh, where I was the District Commissioner. It was at the time of Emergency and Jayaprakash Narayan, who was my prisoner for six months, had just been released on health grounds. News of my managing JP’s release and rushing him to Jaslok Hospital, Bombay, to save him from kidney failure, had leaked out and was the subject of hushed discussion. After dinner MMS travelled with me to his apartment. As he neared his place, he took both my hands and in an emotional tone said: “Devasahayam, by saving the life of JP, you have given hope for India’s second freedom. Nation and its people are ever beholden to you.” His prediction materialised in 1977 and he reaped the benefit later when JP’s protégé Chandrasekhar became Prime Minister.
Taking him to be a sincere soul and sound economist, I was among the first to give the call, ‘MMS for PM’, in the late nineties. We used to meet periodically and I went on to play a facilitating role during the 2004 Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu. Then, having a good equation with MMS and Karunanidhi, I had brought them together to initiate a Congress-DMK alliance that won all the 40 seats, propelling the former into the PM’s chair. But, once he became PM, he did not know who I was! Probably, in his avatar as ‘loyal’ Congressman, he wanted to be miles away from my JP-tag!
Be that as it may, Prime Minister is the leader of the country—a person who should have the positive attributes of decisiveness, determination, persistence, reformer, communicator and friend of those who suffer and struggle. That era is long over and what we have today are mere politicians masquerading as leaders. It is only among them we can look for replacement of the ‘pet-rock’.
In the Congress-led UPA, MMS has thrown in the towel. Finance Minister Chidambaram, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Defence Minister AK Antony and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar fleetingly appeared on the Congress screen, but ended up as mere ‘mention in dispatches’! So, despite his ‘failing halo’, it is Rahul Gandhi backed by big sister Priyanka. Except for his birth for staking claim, Rahul does not have any qualification—politically or administratively—to be the PM candidate. With strong anti-incumbency factors, lost reputation on account of scams and corruption charges, humongous price rise and a deteriorating economic situation, Congress could face rout in parliamentary elections. Rahul-come-lately dramatics and contrived angry-young-man posers against inflation and corruption have flopped.
Fact is that there is no ‘leadership’ in the servile Congress party. Hence, the well-orchestrated blitzkrieg of AAP and Arvind Kejriwal, aided by the command performance of corporate-controlled media. This appears to be another of the time-tested manipulations of the US-centered MNCs operating through their political/business minions in India. For ten years they used the contrived ‘Mr Clean’ image of an individual (MMS) and now they are probably opting for the media-managed ‘anti-corruption’ facade of a fledgling party (AAP) to retain their grip!
BJP-led NDA has put all its eggs in Narendra Modi’s basket. Despite several negative factors—the baggage of Godhra, accusation of encounter killings, reputation of being an authoritarian and non-compromising leader, non-secular and anti-minority credentials—he has a fair chance to occupy the PM’s chair. The argument is that India-at-large wants a dynamic figure to lead the country and rescue the Republic from the abysmal depths of misgovernance and political corruption, and NaMo appears to be the man of the moment. But in the event of the ‘AAPstacle’ containing BJP below 180 seats, the standby PM candidates are Murali Manohar Joshi or Jaswant Singh.
IN the ‘non-Congress-non-BJP Front’, Nitish Kumar emerges as the most prominent PM candidate. But he knows his limitations and would like to be confined to Bihar. Other candidates are the three Ms—Mayavati, Mamata and Mulayam—all home-grown leaders popular in their own party. But outside, none of them could emerge as a consensus candidate. Sharad Pawar and Naveen Patnaik are also leaders who have PM aspirations. They may not face as much opposition as the three Ms, but will have difficulty in finding the numbers to back their ambitions. Pawar also says he will not contest elections, and would support someone else for PM.
That someone could be the ‘sari-clad’ Selvi Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu. Her captive political outfit, AIADMK, is sparing no efforts to win all 40 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu and Pondichery so that Amma could reach the pinnacle. If this materialises, people of the country may have a taste of Tamil Nadu’s ‘welfare’ model with half its population tippling on State-alcohol and the other half living on government-freebies. Bravo!
Any PM in UPA-III would mean more of the cloistered ‘Delhi Durbar’. NaMo of NDA-II could be some ‘Westerly Wind’ and any other would be ‘Whirlwind’!
‘Tout le meilleure’. Let the best win!
The writer is a former Army and IAS officer. Email: email@example.com