Diagnosing Dr. Manmohan Singh
By Mubasshir Mushtaq
How will history judge Dr. Manmohan Singh, India’s non-political prime minister? Will he be remembered as an opportunist who agreed to become prime minister when Sonia Gandhi’s ‘inner voice’ prevailed over her outer voice? Will he be remembered as a ‘night watchman’ performing his nocturnal duty and waiting for the daybreak? Will he be remembered as Madam’s appointee and yes-man-prime minister? Or will he be remembered as a credible man who lost his credibility in political dealings of July 2008 trust vote? Will he be remembered for his do-or-die threat to Leftists over Indo-US nuclear deal? Will he be remembered for reciprocating a measured and sensible response to Pakistan over 26/11? Will he be remembered for not uttering a word over Sikh protests against Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Singh? Or will he be remembered as India’s only minority prime minister who gave Indian Muslims Sachar Committee report? Or will he be remembered for buckling under political pressure and happily allotting time to L.K. Advani to explain his government’s stand on Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thankur?
Dr. Manmohan Singh’s five years of power cannot be diagnosed with the help of above questions alone. Doctor’s dissection must be supplemented by his connivance and silence.
Manmohan Singh, no doubt, is a wearer of many hats. He is not only a sharp bureaucrat but also an astute economist who performed an economic ‘bypass’ to a dying Indian economy and dared to do the unthinkable: open gates of India to foreign direct investment (FDI) and ending an era of license raj. In a stirring speech he had predicted the days of a rising India. Manmohan Singh’s historic budget of 1991 changed the course of India’s economic history. Singh’s radical economic shift was not like Harry Potter’s magic wand but it gradually saved India from extending a begging bowl to IMF (International Monetary Fund). PC Chidambaram’s 1997 “dream budget” was nothing but a legacy of Manmohan Singh. NDA capitalised and strengthened the basic policies of Manmohan Singh. It was only in 2006-07 Time and New Statesman portrayed India on their cover pages and recognised the potential of India’s economic march. Manmohan Singh had said the same 15 years ago: an idea whose time had come.
Political sincerity and commitment cannot be gauged from speeches but it reflects in the legislature. The two most prominent decision of Manmohan Singh government are passing of RTI (Right to Information Act) and NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme). UPA’s common minimum programme is indeed praise-worthy but Manmohan Singh government has failed to fulfill aspirations of the common man. As activist Aruna Roy has rightly remarked, “In a strange schizophrenia, the Manmohan Singh government remembered to bring the non-shining India to the table, but forgot to serve it.”
Manmohan Singh has spent his early days in a village (now in Pakistan) but his heart only beats for the rich and the corporate India. NREGS was passed after much deliberation and discussion while SEZ (Special economic zone) bill was passed without any debate.
It has been rightly said that Manmohan Singh was in office but never in power. His tenure as a PM has been dominated by his ministers. PC Chidambaram never listened to Mannohan Singh. Just one example of the union budget would suffice. In a letter dated November 24, 2006 just after the submission of Sachar committee report, the Prime Minister’s Office directed to the finance ministry that “wherever possible, 15 per cent of targets and funds be earmarked for the minorities in the schemes included in the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme.” Finance Ministry completely ignored this directive. The post-Sachar Union budget was a major disappointment for minorities. After acknowledging that only a ‘modest’ contribution of Rs 16.47 crore was made to the equity of the National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation (NMDFC), Finance Minister (FM) said, “following the Sachar Committee report, NMDFC would be required to expand its reach and intensify its efforts”. So a paltry sum of Rs 63 crore was added to its share capital. And Rs 108 crore was allotted to the districts with a concentration of minorities. FM did not mention the actual number of those districts to avoid the embarrassment. There are a total of 155 such districts. You need not be a mathematician to figure out that only bureaucratic leftovers will be bestowed to the minorities. Out of the Union government's total expenditure of Rs 680,521 crore, the total allocation for minorities (it includes Sikhs and Christians too) was less than Rs 320 crore. The total number of minorities in India is 200 million (Muslims 150m, Sikhs and Christians 50m).
Rs 320 crore for 200 million people? Manmohan Singh, who himself belongs to Sikh minority, didn’t utter a single word over this. He must have felt guilty but he didn’t have political will power to raise this issue. Swapan Dasgupta has rightly said, “His total inexperience with electoral politics and his awareness that he was just a proxy made him adaptable.”
This is what happens when a fine economist is turned into a politician.
Manmohan Singh government’s foreign policy has been dominated by America and Israel. If Indo-US nuclear deal took place in full public view then the recently concluded arms deal with Israel worth 10000 crore was a closed door affair. Manmohan Singh was the face of the Indo-US nuclear deal. Why didn’t he publically acknowledge the arms deal with Israel? That would have certainly increased his ‘credibility’ ratings because PM is known for his honesty!
Honesty is a commendable trait but it is not enough to run a country of more than a billion aspirations. To quote Tarun Tejpal would be apt, ““Decency and efficiency are laudable traits, but they are also routinely found in army officers and swayamsewaks. In the leader of a billion people you may want to look for more.”
Dr. Singh will go down in history as the mutest prime minister of India. He has only asserted his authority only once when he had threatened to resign if Indo-US deal doesn’t sail through. That was only time he reminded the politicians that he is the prime minster of India.
Manmohan Singh is not even taken seriously in his own cabinet perhaps because he has never won a parliamentary election. According to Pratap Bhanu Mehta he is “not an actor in his own cabinet.”
Apart from running a coalition government, Manmohan Singh doesn’t have leadership skills. Tarun Tejpal is right when he wrote, “Without the PM’s tag he would lead a procession that would scarcely fill a corridor of South Block leave alone Ramlila Maidan.”