A weak Singh 'Remote Control'
By Seema Mustafa
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh always gets visibly irritated and angry when opposition leaders at home describe him as ‘weak’. During these elections particularly Singh appears to have been under instructions from his “guardian angel” Sonia Gandhi to hit back, and has been doing so with uncharacteristic ferocity that actually sounds a little strange, and even woebegone, coming from him.
But lets get back to the charge that so angers our Prime Minister. Is he weak? The five years in office have provided sufficient indicators that he is. It starts with this gushing praise of the Nehru-Gandhi Family that he has maintained through the years, making it clear that he might be Prime Minister for the ordinary mortals of the country but not for Sonia Gandhi and her family. The Congress president is the one person he looks up to, who his not just his guardian angel but also his mentor, who he owes everything to, and who he can never contradict let alone question.
Is this being strong or weak? In accepting an authority outside the government, Singh has debased the office of the Prime Minister, a constitutional position that has immense sanctity and authority. It is no secret to the Congress party that the Prime Minister can be reined in at a moments notice, and that he is not in position to direct other ministerial colleagues and extract serious work from any. It is true that a Prime Minister is the first among equals in a government, but it is also true that he is expected to provide the direction free from outside intervention. This is one of the many reasons why a Prime Minister of India is required to be an elected member of Parliament, and not seek his authority from the Rajya Sabha. Not only did Singh refuse to contest the elections for the five years in office, but even now is making a stake for the top job without even venturing into the fray.
Singh recently justified the fact that the Congress president was more powerful than him by saying that it had been a good arrangement, the “division of labour” as he liked to describe it had worked well. Well for whom? Not for India whose people had to get used to a Prime Minister without authority, and who had to exhibit extreme diffidence and servility even in public to keep the job that circumstances had catapulted him into. Even now, both Sonia and Rahul have given the distict impression in their election campaigns that Manmohan Singh is their choice of Prime Minister, and his tenure in office is dependent not on the people directly but on the Family. This is a dilution of democracy, where the most important constitutional authority has beensystematically worn and torn down in the past five years of UPA rule.
Singhs writ did not carry with his ministerial colleagues who carried their problems, and issues to Sonia Gandhi. He showed the same gushing subservience to the US, and strangely enough has still not realized how badly this impacted on sovereign and independent India. His expressed “deep love” for former US President George W.Bush surprised his enthusiastic champions in the media---and there are many of them---as the body language of a confident Bush and a virtually cringing Singh were captured for posterity in photographs the world over. He has done the same with President Barack Obama, using his first meeting to describe in gushing tones India’s appreciation and love for him, and then sealing the interaction by asking for an autograph.
Humiliating for India, but not for the Prime Minister who has not understood in the five years of his tenure that he represents the country and not the Nehru-Gandhi Family.
Singh has got so used to sycophancy to keep himself in power at home, that he uses the same to attract world leaders from the West. He does not realise how strange it must have seemed to even Obama, when the head of a big country asks him for an autograph. One would have expected that the few minutes the two had together, would have been used by Singh to stress not his love for the US and the US President but to highlight the problems that India would face, and is facing, given the Taliban ascendancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And that instead of listening without comment to the US plan that does not take into account Indian sensitivities he would have gone for the bilaterals on the sidelines of the G-20 summit with an Indian initiative, and what we think should be done in the region to bring back a level of stability and peace.
Instead he is now waiting, by his own admission, for the plan to unfold and if it tackles the question of terrorism to “cooperate.” Strange words from the Prime Minister of a country, that had placed itself in the world arena to formulate and direct regional policy, and not accept US thinking for its neighbourhood.
Russia has tried to initiate some talks with India through the Shanghai Corporation Organisation, and even bilaterally on Obama’s Af-Pak policy and the repercussions for the region. By all accounts we have not shown much interest, citing the ongoing elections as an excuse. But since when have elections stopped the ministries from working, and from officials exacting their duties. This is an urgent problem for which some ground must be prepared, but clearly the political masters are not keen to move into a dialogue that might not involve the US.
Singh worked with a certain desperation to get the US Indian civilian nuclear energy agreement through. He used every trick in the book to sign this deal that commits India to a strategic partnership with the US as a junior partner that is now required to follow a foreign policy “congruent” to that of Washington. When Parliament rejected it, Singh by his own admission now threatened to resign, and got the Congress clearance to go ahead and sign it regardless of Parliament and public opinion. Where is the deal now? Singh barely talks of it, and certainly no one in his party is out in the field now asking for votes on the basis of this highly controversial agreement. The US nuclear reactors industry has been out of business for decades and was expected to revive through this deal but like the French has been hit badly by the global melt down. But that does not seem to bother Singh, for he had his hour in the sunlight when Bush embraced him and described his as a great Prime Minister and a true friend.