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Exit mode: Prime minister Manmohan Singh cuts work hours

Monday, 31 March 2014 - 8:30am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

Prime minister Manmohan Singh has a month-and-a-half or at the most two left in office. And his hands are, in a way, tied because the model code of conduct is in place. Big-ticket decisions are beyond the pale; what remains are the mundane, and the routine.

That said, there's isn't much that has changed. It's the same man, so his daily routine is set. True, there are no overseas trips in the itinerary, nor are there any foundations to be laid. But there's lots of work left unfinished, and the government machinery grinds on, inexorably. His working hours have reduced to a commendable 11 from an outstanding 18. Surprisingly, contrary to popular belief, Singh is politically much in demand.

In January, facing the media for only the third time in 10 years, Singh said he was not a weak prime minister and he never felt like resigning. "I do not believe I have been a weak PM. That is for historians to judge... If by "strong prime minister" you mean you preside over a mass massacre of innocent citizens on the streets of Ahmedabad, that is a measure of strength, I do not believe that sort of strength this country needs, least of all, in its prime minister."

Manmohan Singh's day starts early. He takes his morning walks seriously. No change there. It gives the day a good start, and keeps the blood running. Then it's a simple breakfast. At 8am, he has a visitor: the R&AW chief, who briefs him on what's happening in the world, what the Pakistanis and the Chinese are up to; whether Obama has something up his sleeves that has repercussions for India and so on and so forth.

At 8.30am, it's the turn of the IB chief to brief the PM. In half an hour, the prime minister is brought up to date on what's happening where in India, and what could happen in the next 24 hours. India's a rollicking democracy (or so it's said) and one of the most happening countries in the world and the prime minister of India always has his hands full.

A little after 9am, Singh sets out for his office in South Block; 9.30am, the day begins in earnest. Till a month ago, the prime minister clocked over 18 working hours a day. "But now, its an 11-hour day for us," says a senior official of the PMO. "As always office begins at 9.30am but these days it ends by 7.30pm. That's in case the PM has no political engagements."

The day holds a lot of meetings in store. Meetings with officials of the PMO are a priority. "PMO officials" means the principal secretary, national security advisor and others like TKA Nair. It's in these meetings with them that the day's roadmap is prepared. In the evening, before calling it a day, this roadmap is revisited.

But much before the evening sets in, the PM holds meetings with several committees. "The prime minister is the head of many official committees, and many of these meetings are held regularly even now.

Recently, he held meetings with the Gandhi Smriti Committee and the Jawaharlal Nehru 125th Birth Anniversary Celebrations Committee," says the official.

The prime minister also has to sign a lot of files. There are no let up in his executive duties. He has to keep clearing pending work, take stock of the progress of several infrastructure projects that come directly under the aegis of the PMO, and sign files on matters that require his urgent attention, and intervention.

Around 2pm, Singh returns to 7RCR for lunch. After undergoing two cardiac procedures, Singh is particular about having his meals on time. After lunch, the PM gets back to work, from his office at home. The last people to meet Singh before he calls it a day are national security advisor Shivshankar Menon and principal secretary Pulok Chatterjee.

Then again, it's not all government and governance, he has a duty to his party, too. And Singh has been working with the SPG and the Congress party a lot these last few weeks, planning his campaigns for the Lok Sabha elections. "Requests have come from eight states including Karnataka, Assam, Haryana and Rajasthan. He will begin campaigning once the process of ticket distribution is over."

After a long gap, Singh was seen on television on Wednesday, holding aloft the Congress manifesto, flanked by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. The prime minister has already told the world that he is not in the running for another term. But with his kind of luck, you never know. And like he said in January: "I honestly believe that history will be kinder to me than contemporary media or for that matter the opposition parties in Parliament."

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