Friday, January 3, 2014

History will not be Kind

Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh announced his retirement at a large press conference in New Delhi, only the third in his 10-year continuous tenure as PM, the longest continuous tenure for any one person after Jawaharlal Nehru in 1951. His 75-minute long press conference, including his opening statements, will be remembered more for his optimism that history would judge him kindly than any direction or message for the country as a whole. In a way, this was typical of this PM, who considered it unworthy for the leader of the world's largest democracy to interact with the media more than three times in ten years.

Indeed, the Press Conference is notable for two ridiculous points that he made. One was that Rahul Gandhi was extremely qualified to be the PM, that without any judgment. A man whose authority within his party stems from his DNA rather than his achievements, who has lost elections for his party, who has absolutely no administrative experience and who cannot even hold an audience at a rally - to call that 'highly qualified', that too by a person who has a PhD and has been PM for ten years, is laughable. Two, his assertion that UPA-II was scam-free because all the scams were in UPA-I and hence, he does not have to worry about it. This defies all logic - how do elections acquit politicians of crime? And would his government have ever returned to power had the public known what was coming in 2009? It is as good as saying that he successfully hoodwinked the people in 2009! 

Truly, the only good news from the Press Conference was the announcement of his retirement - this was a serious antidote that the nation badly needed, as crucial as sending Pranab Mukherjee to Rashtrapati Bhawan and hence, out of the Finance Ministry. The PM called the last ten years as a period of unprecedented economic growth. This is faulty on two counts. For one, it is now known that most of this growth was on the back of huge, unsustainable subsidies that have already begun to bite back, as well as massive corruption and cooking of the books. It was not on the back of any structural improvement in the economy; indeed, our infrastructure, particularly Highways, has crumbled under his administration. And two, Manmohan Singh inherited a strong economy from the NDA Government and returned a collapsing one - the difference is clear and shocking. 

But perhaps the greatest tragedy of the last ten years has been the fact that 'personal integrity' has become a bad word in Indian politics. In 2009, Singh was celebrated as 'one of our own,' a clean PM whose credentials were beyond question (he was an Opinions 24x7 Indian of the Year for that). Today, he is seen as a laughing stock within the Cabinet and his own party, a punching bag to shield the Gandhi dynasty, someone who stood quiet and honest as everyone around him made merry with taxpayers' money. Sharad Pawar, his own corruption aside, rightly observed that the country is tired of weak leaders and wants a strong and decisive leader who can walk the talk. Ultimately, it was Manmohan Singh's failures that made the nation realize this. 

Despite his assertions, Manmohan Singh will not be written about kindly by history. He will be harshly criticized as we continue to see the disaster that was his tenure. Perhaps the only time he will be praised, as he himself asserted, will be the Indo-US Nuclear Deal and the lifting the of sanctions on India. That was the first and last time the PM put principle ahead of power - that was what was lacking most of all in UPA-II. 

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