Manmohan Singh: Puppet PM and sacrificial lamb for the Congress

Friday, 16 May 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

Why this sudden rage over the "discovery" that Congress president Sonia Gandhi has been calling the shots in UPA I and II governments? Only the politically naive would have believed otherwise. In the Congress scheme of things, party is supreme and without the party there is no government and sans Gandhi family there is no party. As such, the Prime Minister, whoever he or she may be, must be subservient to the party and the Gandhi family

So a diarchal leadership was evolved through an unstated arrangement between Singh and Sonia in 2004. The system, which created dual power centres, worked very well for UPA I. The experiment was so good that the Congress bagged 60 more Lok Sabha seats in 2009 to form the UPA II government.

By 2008 Manmohan Singh had become an icon of the middle class. "Singh was King". Foreign media sung hosannas to Singh. During the Copenhagen Climate Summit in Beijing US President Barack Obama walked up to Singh and said: "Mr Guru what will we do?" The Independent described him as "one of the world's most revered leaders" and "a man of uncommon decency and grace."

The halcyon days ended soon. It is a sad commentary such a man is being reviled and ridiculed at the fag end of his career. How much of it is Singh's own making? No doubt, he presided over a dispensation hit by scams and governance deficit. However, the mud being flung at Singh is hugely disproportionate to his contribution to the mess created by UPA II.

What went wrong? If the dual power centre worked well in UPA I, why it did not after 2009?

Singh was served with a fait accompli. He had to work with demanding and cantankerous allies who even hindered economic and foreign policy initiatives. The Trinamool Congress and DMK bolted, making the numbers game in Parliament even more dicey for the government.

To ensure the survival of the government, the Congress initially winked at the 2G scam linked to DMK and the demand for a JPC probe.

The Congress party's Parliament strategy was pathetic; the BJP disrupted proceedings and session after session was washed out jeopardising key legislative agenda.

None of it was Manmohan Singh's making. Congressmen knew he is not a wily or astute politician. The PM post was outsourced to him and he could work only in congenial environs. To cap it all, barring one or two honourable exceptions, Singh did not have much of a say in the appointment of his council of ministers.

However, Singh appears to have committed two cardinal mistakes. One, alienating the Left and second not stepping down as PM when the going was tough.

He had banked too much on the Americans and risked the survival of UPA I government by signing the Indo-US nuclear deal. The UPA lost the backing of Left parties thereby sowing the seeds of a weak UPA II.

The Left, the CPM in particular, was not only a vocal section of secular polity but also played a balancing role and guided the government and the Congress president on crucial policy initiatives.

Finally, why didn't Singh quit? Charitable Congressmen say that he did not want to be seen as jumping a sinking ship. Moreover, the Indian economy is not all that bad despite the global meltdown. And the periodic pincer attacks by Congressmen notwithstanding, Singh and Sonia vibed well, had good personal chemistry. He did not want to ditch her and precipitate a crisis as he knew that finding a successor was not going to be easy for Gandhi.

Last year, an unusually combative Singh had said the BJP pitted the Iron Man (Advani) against a "lamb" (Singh). Perhaps, he did not know that he would soon be the proverbial sacrificial lamb for Congressmen.

The writer is a political commentator


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