But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
– Walt Whitman
Times are cruel when we are traitors and do not know ourselves. No economist has said that. But it fits a description of Dr Manmohan Singh’s plight like nothing else. His weakness, which became his strength when the Congress party was hunting for a prime ministerial candidate in 2004, seems to have come a full circle. Perhaps, the winning streak of every silence has an expiry. MMS’s, it appears, is well past that.
Barbs from everywhere bear his address these days. A week ago, while issuing threat to lower India’s rating to “speculative grade”, Standard & Poor’s observed, “Paramount political power rests with the leader of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, who holds no cabinet position, while the government is led by an unelected prime minister Manmohan Singh, who lacks a political base of his own.” Azim Premji’s comment that India is without a leader came a day later. NR Narayana Murthy also tore into the PM, saying, “There was a lot of confidence that India would indeed do whatever was necessary because the person who was the face of economic reforms in 1991 is our current PM. Over the past three-four months, India’s image seems to have suffered. As an Indian, I feel very sad that we have come to this state.”
His own political colleagues, Mamata Banerjee and Mulayam Singh Yadav, have gone a step further and started talking about his retirement plan, though a comfortable one in the Raisina Hills. He has been trying to meet Banerjee for two days now. But didi, as we know her, talks exclusively to those who matter.
But, what has he done to deserve this? In fact, doing hasn’t been his calling of late. A quaint picture of him taking files to 10 Janpath for clearance on a winter morning which flashed in media early in his first stint is etched on the nation’s memory. Then how come he is suddenly responsible for all the wrongdoing!
When the supreme court rapped the prime minister’s office for sitting over the plea to prosecute A Raja in 2G scam, was it his doing? Who wanted to save Raja’s skin even at the cost of compromising the constitutional reverence of the PM’s chair?
Is there a single stance of this kind in MMS’s earlier stints in the RBI, planning commission or as FM (when he had more powers than he has now)? Is he to blame for the policy paralysis once even outsiders (S&P, for example) know that he doesn’t have the political base to see through a single file, let alone policy matters?
MMS is praised the world over for his integrity. In the current scenario, his clean image makes him unfit to be a politician. According to the September 3, 2011 declarations by the PM and his cabinet (posted online), MMS’s personal assets amount to Rs 5 crore, one of the least in the list. However, there cannot be a case, and I am not making one, in his defence either. He knew when he took up the captainship that his job was not plain walking the deck and enjoying beauty of the sea. Someday, Mephistopheles had to return to claim his (in this case her) pound of flesh.
There is a saying in Italian, a language Dr Singh is not known to know (but then there are people who do): “He who sups with the devil must use a long spoon.” Had MMS known it, he would have. Maybe that’s why these days Google props ‘Manmohan Singh jokes’ option first and his profile later.