PM's Teflon Image will Wear Thin

Unless Guilty Punished

It is a measure of the respect which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh continues to inspire that he was able to get away without any serious damage to his credibility with admissions at his press conference that would have been politically disastrous for any other politician.

Considering that he acknowledged the governance and ethical "deficits" of his tenure, and blamed "coalition dharma" for the unethical compromises, it was evident that the government's failures far outweighed its successes.

What is more, since the compromises that he spoke of are known to be responsible for one of the biggest swindles in recent memory, it is patent enough that these did not entail ideological tussles, but concerned corrupt practices that have led to the incarceration of a minister in Delhi's well-known Tihar Jail.

An acknowledgment of such candour can be a millstone round a politician's neck. Yet, the prime minister has escaped relatively unhurt. Similarly, his observations that a great deal of unfinished business remains to be done, that reforms have stalled and that he is not a "lame duck" prime minister point to weaknesses which anyone less upright would have been reluctant to mention.

What has nevertheless helped him is the impression of sincerity which he conveys with his mild manner, his hesitant way of speaking - which was especially noticeable this time - and his straightforward answers without any attempt to duck difficult questions. Even if some of the replies seemed insipid and redolent of the bureaucratic habit of harping on technicalities to avoid being pinned down, it was his reputation for honesty which saw the prime minister through.

Given the fact that there is still no large-scale "deficit" of popular trust in him, there will be a sense of relief that he has promised to "stay the course". It isn't only the aam admi who will be relieved that no change of guard is in the offing, which could have plunged the country into an uncertain future, the Congress too must have realised that the party would have sunk much deeper in the present scam-tainted atmosphere if someone
other than Manmohan Singh was at the helm.

The reason why the Congress continues to sail in choppy waters is its long history of scandals, including perhaps the most notorious of them all - the Bofors howitzer saga of 1987 - which brought down the Rajiv Gandhi government's majority from a mammoth 415 in 1984 to 197 in 1989. It was followed by the P.V. Narasimha Rao government which earned the dubious distinction of bribing the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) MPs to stay in power.

It is in the aftermath of these scandals that the Congress not only lost power in 1996 but also appeared to have entered a period where even its own supporters were sceptical about success. In fact, the party was taken aback when it fared well enough in 2004 to be able to form a coalition government. But it was obvious to all that this turn of fortunes was primarily the result of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) mistakes, including the Gujarat riots of 2002, which were held responsible by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, its prime minister from 1998 to 2004, for its defeat.

To many, however, the present spate of scams are a sign that the Congress is back to its old ways. However, to keep such insinuations at bay, Manmohan Singh is the party's best bet. He may be accused of being too nice a person or  not being assertive enough. Some of his admissions - "I did not feel I had the authority to object to Raja's entry (to the cabinet in 2009) because although complaints were coming, some were from those companies that had not benefited" - even underline his excessive leniency.

Even then, he comes out as a person whose personal integrity seemingly blinds him to the deviousness of others. It may be a fault in a person in such a responsible position since it can make the unworthy take advantage of his innate goodness, but most people will still prefer a decent individual as prime minister to a crafty one.

At the same time, it is possible that Manmohan Singh is drawing heavily on his personal resources of honesty. In fact, his uprightness has made too many crooks run amok. As a result, the focus will now be on seeing whether he is prepared to crack the whip on the wrongdoers "this time", as he has said. Any further dithering will be politically fatal for him and his party. Unless the guilty are punished, his Teflon image will wear thin.

Apart from his reputation, Manmohan Singh and the Congress have also benefited from the BJP's failure to deal with the allegations of corruption in its own camp, notably in the case of Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, some of whose acts have been called "immoral", though not illegal, by his own party president Nitin Gadkari. As a result, the party had to keep Yeddyurappa out of all its recent anti-corruption meetings.

But there are others in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) like Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who is both clean himself and unrelenting in cracking down on corrupt officials in the state.

Manmohan Singh's disadvantage is that he is politically lightweight. Not being a stirring orator since he is too academic-minded, he is not a crowd-puller and will be hard put to win an election. His forte, however, is his uncluttered vision of India's progress in the economic field, where he does not carry the baggage of his party's old-fashioned socialism and is, therefore, more in tune with the younger generation as well as the new,
consumerist middle and upper classes. It is these sections which will be pleased with his determination not to give up "half way". 


More by :  Amulya Ganguli

Top | Opinion

Views: 3314      Comments: 2

Comment Dear Sir,

We broke all past records of corruption in india during UPA-1 tenure, both in sense of the scale of money as well as in the scale of morality.

What else remains for one to be able to believe that Dr. Manmohan Singh is an honest man and that if few guilty are caught and punished, the PM will be proven to be honest ??

Sir, it was pretty clear from the first 6 months of UPA-1 operations that the intentions of the ruling coalition, especially Kangress was not to take India forward on the path NDA proceeded (evident form many indicators, such as - Visions 2020 discarded (or rather silenced), the ambitious highway building program was slowed down from 11km/day to 2km/day rate and so on). Instead they drew the direction of country from economic progress to debates and provocations on communal lines etc. etc.

And it happened through all the five years in UPA-1 tennur and continued in UPA-2 as well.

We all know and understand that almost every politician is involved in some or the other corruption, small or big. We also know that the scale and area of corruption Yeddyurappa engaged in, could not be matched with corruption in 2G scam - where many are involved in big way as indications are coming.

We all know that how the episode of Yeddyurappa was dramatized. It was brought up as protective shield, to counter the onslaught on Kangress due to 2 G scam.

And we are all engaged in sincerely matching the Yeddyurappa's tiny corrupt acts to giant 2 G scam ??

And last but not the least, how can we forget that the ‘S-band spectrum’ scam - that was busted in time recently - that would have endangered India's security otherwise - had hand of people from UPA and that our honest PM had given node to proceed on the deal initially, that apart from bringing financial losses to the govt. would also have put India’s security on sale !! (90% of S-band was proposed to be let off to the firm ‘Devas‘, through the contract that was fully biased to benefit Devas, but most important is that this S-band is very crucial for our military systems !! [source: Times Now news channel] ).

Any honest PM would have resigned if not successful to block such a deal that was against India’s national interest.

Dr. Manmohan Singh is honest to Kangress but not to the country, and I think we are talking about honesty for India and not for kangress or UPA...

Dinesh Kumar Bohre
20-Feb-2011 14:57 PM

Comment This is an apology for the acts of omission and commission by a spineless man.

20-Feb-2011 03:10 AM

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