MachoMohan or just Manmohan Singh ab naye pack mein?!

Nothing is dearer to the PM than his chair. The moment that chair gets a bit rocky, as it has for Manmohan Singh of late, the timid bureaucrat can transmogrify himself into an animal that is willing to fight with the ferociousness of a cornered wildcat


BV Rao | September 19, 2012

Editor's note: This is an article our former editor, B V Rao, wrote in September 2012. We revisit the piece on a day prime minister Manmohan Singh showed some of that ferociousness, while still being largely inert, during an interaction with the media while announcing that he is not in the running for a third term.

?“If we have to go down anyway, we will go down fighting.” With that emphatic war cry at the cabinet meeting on September 14, Manmohan Singh at last unleashed his animal spirits. It did not matter, of course, that just like any other animal, especially of the bureaucratic kind, he discovered the spirits only when he was painted into a deep dark corner.

Nothing is dearer to the career bureaucrat than his chair. He will put up with anything to keep that piece of wood for as long as possible. If that is the surest way of saving his chair, a bureaucrat can behave like an intern in a law firm even though he happens to have been the prime minister of the republic of India for eight long years, three of them excruciatingly so.

Whatever the world might think or say of him, a true blue bureaucrat will rustle up all kinds of excuses for not doing his job or asserting his position or standing by his convictions if that is what his boss wants. Excuses such as: a) the opposition is stifling me b) the aam aadmi is an oaf….he should be happy that he can’t afford anything because inflation is a sign of prosperity, instead he cribs all the time and doesn’t let me hike fuel prices c) I’m trapped between a strong boss who doesn’t let me do much and a stronger number 2 (till very recently, that is) who wanted to do everything but did nothing and, of course, d) coalition compulsions….those damned allies who run their own little governments within my government. 

But all that is only as long as the chair is stable. The moment that chair gets a bit rocky, as it has for Manmohan Singh of late, the timid bureaucrat can transmogrify himself into an animal that is willing to fight with the ferociousness of a cornered wildcat. All the excuses for inaction disappear instantly. All the clouds lift and the path is as clear as the blue sky after a downpour. Reform, reform and more reform.

The opposition can scream its head off asking for his resignation. After six LPG cylinders in a year the aam aadmi can go back to cooking on coal that has not been produced by the scamsters  who got mines from Manmohan just because it looks good on their portfolio. He can cleverly get rid of problem no. 2  by elevating him to Rashtrapati Bhavan. His boss can drop him if she thinks he has suddenly started behaving like a prime minister. And the allies can bring his government down for all he cares.

Actually, he more than cares. He knows they won’t. Firstly, he is not the resigning kind, secondly, changing the prime minister is slightly more complicated than changing nappies, and lastly, allies will not pull the plug because (as Nitish Kumar says) every party wants to exercise power till the last day and no MP (Nitish didn’t say this) will go to elections before banking the last rupee of his daily allowances, including the per diem for attending a parliament that never works.

That has been the case always and that is the case even now. Manmohan Singh kept A Raja in the cabinet for months after the 2G scam revelation. We were told that Manmohan was not sacking Raja because the DMK would pull his government down. When Raja had to go following the supreme court’s indictment, it turned out that the DMK was not quite the Tamil tiger it was made out to be. Eighteen months, two more ministerial losses and lengthy jail terms later, the DMK is still in the game, meowing like a pet Congress cat. 

Some years ago when the detergent wars were as incessant as today without quite the ability (tricks?) for product extensions and value additions, all the brands had one common pitch: “Rin detergent ab naye pack mein”, “Wheel detergent ab naye pack mein”, “Nirma detergent ab naye pack mein” and “Ghadi detergent ab naye pack mein”. 

The pink (and non-pink) papers have launched orgasmic celebrations announcing the arrival of a brand new, no-nonsense MachoMohan. They say he will now reform and perform and everything will be rosy again. But be very wary because it seems like a Goebbelsian truth is about to catch up with him. He has touted the coalition compulsions lie so often to hide his own weakness and lack of will that it is now about to come true. Mamata has pulled out leaving him at the mercy of Mulayam, Maya and Karunanidhi. While none of them is going to bring the government down in a hurry, they will certainly give Manmohan a real taste of coalition compulsions now. They will start gently and nicely like the DMK’s decision to join tomorrow’s national strike against FDI and fuel hikes. By election time in 2014, Manmohan might not have a millimetre of bone and muscle in his arms that has not been twisted. So before you go gaga over the unravelling of MachoMohan, be sure this is not “Manmohan ab naye pack mein”. Call for more evidence before you are blown away by the new packaging. After all, we are talking of the man who made the most powerful office of the land look like its most helpless.



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