Amidst an Avalanche of Accusations - Part II
Continued from “Manhohan Singh’s Sound of Silence?”
‘Tis very true, my grief lies all within;
And these external manners of laments
Are merely shadows to the unseen grief
That swells with silence in the tortured soul;
- Richard II, Act IV, Scene I - Shakespeare
One of the most forbidding things in life is to interpret someone’s silence. And adding to the complexity of the task is that there are various types of silences. There is, for instance, silence stemming from the numbness of not being able to scream or cry. Remember, the 1991 Hollywood thriller The Silence of the Lambs based on Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel of the same name. Then there is what’s called Monastic silence − a spiritual practice recommended in a variety of religious traditions. It is said the Buddha turned silent after achieving enlightenment. That’s what they call, silence after knowing the ultimate truth. Another variety is the silence of the ever-faithful jilted lover.
Obviously Manmohan Singh’s silence is of a genre apart from the most known varieties. However intriguing and long-lasting, it cannot continue forever.
Must Speak Out
I spelled out last week how there are good reasons why Manmohan Singh should continue with his silence. There are also equally compelling reasons why Singh should discard his long-enduring silent mode, especially after the CAG tirade.
Manmohan Singh, you’ll recall, chided the office of CAG in public. Vinod Rai has recounted the fair amount of bitterness on this score in Not Just an Accountant. On June 29, 2011, Prime Minister accused Rai of leaking stories. He said:
I think CAG also leaks and it is not the function of the CAG and it has never been that the CAG has held press conferences like the present CAG has done. But nobody is commenting on this. It is not right for the CAG to go into issues which are not the concern of the CAG. It is not the business of CAG to comment on policy issues. They should limit themselves to mandate given under the constitution, we are a permissive society if the media can get away with murder, so can the CAG.
He was castigating not just the office of CAG but the incumbent personally. Now that the CAG has come out with his version in public domain, Manmohan Singh has to defend himself.
He should also remember how the Party never came forward to defend Narasimha Rao when he was in political wilderness. It is fairly certain that it isn’t going to defend him too. Did anyone speak out in the wake of Vinod Rai’s revelations?
While indicting the former prime minister, Vinod Rai had also accused Congress leaders including Sanjay Nirupam, Sandip Dikshit and former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, of putting pressure on him to whittle down his findings, particularly, indicting the Congress high-ups. One by one, these leaders have, in self-defense, debunked the charge that they had wanted the report to be laundered. Nirupam even hinted that he could sue Rai for it − a threat that if pursued would inevitably drag not just Singh but many other bigwigs into the legal tangle, something which Sonia Gandhi may not relish considering that she, Rahul and some of her senior aides are already embroiled in the National Herald legal imbroglio.
Dikshit too denied any role, claiming that there was no time machine to turn back the clock when the report was already in circulation. Sonia Gandhi faithful loyalist Abhshek Singhvi rubbished Rai’s charges summarily as a “marketing gimmick” to promote the sale of his book much like the party had earlier done with Natwar Singh’s autobiography.
However, the biggest setback so far to Manmohan Singh was Kamal Nath’s endorsement of Vinod Rai’s disclosure that as Commerce minister he had shared the concerns over 2G with the Prime Minister. Kamal Nath, however, couldn’t have said anything different since the letter he wrote to Singh was already in the public domain. He is on record to say: “I wrote to the PM that I’m hearing all sorts of things are going on in 2G allocation. The PM chose to do nothing. I do feel if he had intervened, things would have been different.”
Manmohan Singh’s silence is rightly being construed to mean an admission of guilt. Seen to be publicly indicted, Manmohan Singh owes to the nation to speak up. Whether or not what he says will carry conviction with his detractors, is a different issue. Time and again, while speaking either on the telecom scam or the coal scandal, he spoke on how he wanted transparency built into the allocation process. He may have failed in doing that in government, while allowing speculation to fester that he was hampered by the compulsions of coalition politics and, more so, the diktats of 10 Janpath. But now that he is no longer prime minister, he needs to show transparency and forthrightness in his reaction to all that is being said about him. It is perhaps his last chance to make himself heard.
In his third press conference he held in his 10 years as Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh had expressed the hope that history would be kinder to him than the contemporary media. It is highly unlikely that even history will extend him that favor unless he steps out of the cocoon of silence he has chosen to weave around himself.
Issue of Accountability
There was a time when Manmohan Singh could have rehabilitated himself. Rai went to the extent of putting on record that he should get credit for taking prompt action with regard to ordering of coal block auction, after certain irregularities were brought to his personal notice.
In his Arnab Goswami interview, Vinod Rai brought up the all-important issue of ultimate accountability of the man at the top.
The Prime Minister is the head of the government and he may not have any role in the decisions which some of them, like Commonwealth Games he was not directly responsible for anything.
But ultimately the acclaim and the blame both have to be taken by the head of the institution. In that respect, I have brought it out and there is nothing personal. It is certainly not to do with an individual.
Giving an example, the former CAG said, “Our Indian team went to England to play cricket and in all the Test matches we performed very poorly. “Didn’t the blame of it come to a very large measure on the captain of the team? May be a large number of players did not function or play properly, but the blame had to be taken by the captain.”
Rai further submitted: “If I am the CAG today and if something goes wrong in my organization, even if I did not have a role to play in it, the responsibility revolves around me.”
Take a classic example. When there were a few recurrent incidents in INS ships the Navy chief, Admiral D K Joshi tendered his resignation on moral grounds hours after a fire broke out on the submarine INS Sindhuratna. Although he did not have any role whatever to play in those accidents but the ultimate responsibility revolved around him. The proverbial buck has to stop somewhere. That was what is expected of the head of an organization when things awry. That requires moral courage, which is the hallmark of true leadership.
Role of 10, Janpath
Did the Urdu poet Dag Dehlvi have the present role of Sonia Gandhi in mind when he wrote:
Khub pardah hai chilman se lage baithe hain
Saf chipte bhi nahin, samne aate bhi nahin
(What a purdah is it! She sits hugging the curtain
Neither does she hide herself not come out in the open.)
Even if there is no conclusive direct evidence so far the common perception is that 10 Janpath − the common acronym for Sonia Gandhi − was very much in the picture, and all through.
Without having any direct responsibility whatever, Sonia Gandhi, as head of the UPA, is said to have run the administration. Secret files used to go to her residence. Although this allegation has become public, there is no cogent explanation either from her or from those in the government of Manmohan Singh.
The interview which the former CAG has given is much more damaging than his book. He has revealed that he had met the former Prime Minister and conveyed certain things verbally. Still there has been no action taken.
Moral courage has a very high ranking among the traits of leadership. If Manmohan Singh has that attribute, let him be bold enough to come out with his version of facts. Otherwise people at large are bound to believe that only overweening ambition goaded him to stay in office as the Prime Minister at any cost. And since Sonia Gandhi had done everything to put him in the seat he comes out very badly. To him, the chair was more important than the perception people had that he would do something to stop the corruption
Peter Drucker who almost single-handedly built the corpus of what’s known as the now proliferating disciple, called management talks in on his books about “mirror test”. He traces it to a great German diplomat who, in the first decade of the twentieth century in the good old pre-WWI era, was accredited to St. James’ Court in London. The ruling sovereign of the United Kingdom was King Edward VII who followed Victoria on the throne.
One occupation that most descendants of the House Windsor excelled in was the satisfaction of their seemingly insatiable sexual appetite. In a way, Mrs. Brown (as Her Majesty Queen Victoria was referred to) herself had bequeathed the legacy of the gene responsible for royal sexual peccadilloes. Victoria’s heir was a notorious womanizer. When he completed five years on the throne, the corps diplomatique was asked to arrange a banquet in his honor. That was in 1906.
The distinguished German Ambassador who was widely expected to be his country’s next Foreign Minister was, as the senior most diplomat supposed to preside. The British monarch had made his preference well-known in advance. The banquet, with all its royal regalia must end, after the dessert, with a giant-sized cake materializing in the center of the hall, out of which were supposed to emerge a dozen naked, shapely prostitutes, one of which His Majesty will condescend to take to bed that night.
To the utter dismay of the entire diplomatic world, the German ambassador tendered his resignation that morning rather than be called upon to preside over the banquet that the British sovereign had suggested. That was in response to the query to his self the previous night: “Are you, old chap, prepared to see a bloody pimp in the mirror next morning when you shave?”
All of us, in life, are called upon to take the mirror test sometime or the other by looking straight into our own eyes in the mirror and answer: Who are you? What are you now up to? Is this the right thing to do? Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray finally couldn’t stand the sight of what he saw. He killed himself. Each of us has to face the moment of truth.
Let Manmohan Singh do the same. He knows the wellspring of public sympathy is drying fast. His supposedly unimpeachable integrity stands severely compromised. He should know bureaucrats are no leaders. They are timid and self-serving. Manmohan Singh all his life had been a dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrat, bending backwards to do carry out instructions. His timidity and selfishness stopped him from protesting and quit when, for instance, Rahul Gandhi openly and brazenly insulted him by tearing the draft ordinance he had drafted. He swallowed the insult to cling to the chair. Integrity is just not confined only to making or not making a fast buck. Didn’t the UPA Prime Minister compromise his integrity when he declared himself to be a citizen from Assam for his Rajya Sabha nomination with a back dated house rent receipt from late Hiten Saikia, then Chief Minister of Assam?
Yes, let him have a hard look in the mirror and tap his inner reservoir of strength and summon the courage to say:
“Yes, all said, I take full responsibility of whatever happened under my stewardship. However, my detractors shouldn’t forget the dual centers of power that sustained both the administrations of UPA. The chairman of the Alliance was a party to each and every decision. So were all the Alliance partners and their leaders. The credit or discredit of all decisions taken by UPA administrations is shared by all. ”
Thereafter, he can spend the rest of his life watching the political explosions that would inevitably follow. If he fails to do so, posterity will judge him to be a great time-server who failed to rise to the expectations of his office and one who compromised profusely to retain his office.
The evidence that has emerged so far tells a sordid tale of what was happening behind the scenes. And that clamors for the appointment of a top independent body − an Accountability Commission − of, say, three eminent persons, presided over by an ex-Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, to examine threadbare the record of both the UPA administrations and bring before the public all the facts and recommend what further line of action should be taken to clean the Aegean stables of our public life. If it is established by this independent body how politicians and bureaucrats had joined hands to literally loot the country, shouldn’t those involved be publicly prosecuted?