Where is Manmohan Singh these days?

If anything, the outgoing PM’s silence speaks eloquently of all the sins of omission and commission over the decade

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Ashish Mehta | April 11, 2014


Manmohan Singh: If this is how the longest-running prime-ministership of recent decades ends, aspirant Narendra Modi should have little reason to smile.
Manmohan Singh: If this is how the longest-running prime-ministership of recent decades ends, aspirant Narendra Modi should have little reason to smile.

The ongoing elections seem to be the hottest and most action-filled one in recent times. The whole world is watching India vote. Everyone from veteran observers of Indian politics to the friendly neighbourhood paanwala is excited and has things to say on the issues that should decide the vote: Modi, Congress, corruption.

Even Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, purportedly said something for Modi’s alleged incorruptibility before it turned out to be a fake tweet by an overenthusiastic fan [read our take here].

But one man has nothing to say, no views to offer. He does not wish to influence the agenda, much less your vote. He has adopted a stoic silence; an advait vedantic disinterestedness. If he were to say anything at all, he might quote Ghalib and say that to him the world is merely a playground of small kids. Unfortunately, that man is the outgoing prime minister.

If anything, Manmohan Singh’s silence speaks eloquently of all the sins of omission and commission over the decade. He and his party finally seems to be on the same page, because the Congress too wants to make no mention of the man in its campaign, no mention of the purported achievements of the government led by him; as if it wants to forget this decade even more badly than the rest of the nation.

On a given day, most newspapers tell readers where Modi will be, what Rahul Gandhi would be doing, what Kejriwal will be up to. But nobody has a clue if Manmohan Singh is in Delhi or trying a dry run of his retirement with a vacation in the hills. To say that the man has been reduced to a poor shadow of his former self would be an exaggeration: that was the case five years ago.

If this is how the longest-running prime-ministership of recent decades ends, Modi should have little reason to smile. But in this comparison lies the crucial lesson in statecraft. India seems so tired of a non-existent leadership that it is ready to tilt the other way and choose a rather too strong a leader, even an autocrat.

Yes, Advani did point it out, way back in 2009. The tagline of the BJP campaign in the 2009 election, projecting Advani as PM, harped on strong and decisive leadership. It did not sell then, less because of Advani and more because of Manmohan Singh’s show of strength in the nuclear deal affair with the US.

But what followed over the next five years is difficult to comprehend. Governance has been left on auto pilot, and an unprecedented number of financial scandals have come out. What was the Congress core team thinking? Yes, a third term for the party was statistically improbable, but that is not a reason to treat the second term as a bonus. Going by the ad spend of the two leading parties, the Congress does not seem to have been efficient even in filling its coffers.

That is why a thesis can be worked out that Modi’s rise is fuelled more by the Congress than by him or his PR firm. Many would now tell you that they thought of Modi as PM material right in 2007 or even earlier, but as late as 2009 the Congress was very much in the game. The party, and especially Rahul Gandhi, lost the plot some time later.

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