The Prime Minister of democratic India addressed a press conference after a break of three years on Friday. His interventions in Parliament too have been few and far between. In the end, he didn’t have much to communicate, except that he would not seek a third term. All he had to offer as justification for his performance was reelection after UPA-1. However, as pointed out by BJP spokespersons, he did not allow the benefit of this argument to Narendra Modi – reelected thrice after the communal riots in Gujarat.
It was the tired performance of a person more or less at the end of his wits. He denied he was a weak prime minister, but this was exactly why he got a second tenure. Vajpayee lost in spite of a robust five years of governance, while Manmohan won despite admittedly bowing repeatedly to ‘coalition compulsions’. In the latter case, the people chose Manmohan again because under him the Centre was weak and allowed greater autonomy to the states, as well as less interference on day to day basis. However, UPA-II proved somewhat excessive in allowing this ‘freedom’, leading to scams that dwarfed even the gargantuan ones of the earlier term. As such, to the people, while the much derided Modi presents an ‘alternative’, the AAP phenomenon represents ‘holding the corrupt to account’. Under this two-pronged attack, the top Congress brass must plan a rearguard action to prevent it from becoming an overwhelming wave. In his wish to be remembered by history, Manmohan Singh might end up being remembered for the wrong reasons altogether.
Be that as it may, the Congress seems to have finally made up its mind that there will be no more Manmohan – all the attempts at perception management have not been able to protect his image as the ‘Economist Prime Minister’ performing miracles with the Indian economy. Whoever receives the baton from him will actually inherit an economy in shambles, as well as a desperately weakened state apparatus. India’s strategic interests, too, have all been compromised in one way or another.
It is not that he considers himself too old for the job; for he claims he enjoyed being Prime Minister all the way and never considered resigning. He is being given the push and will be made the scapegoat for all the ills, while salvaging whatever remains of the Nehru-Gandhi Parivar sheen. As an ‘appointed’ head of government, he was always in violation of the parliamentary system of politics, which requires a ‘Leader’ of the House. He could not lead – neither his party, nor the coalition. It was always an attempt at ‘management’ with the help of one or another group within the party. In the end, each lobby and interest group took its pound of flesh, even as every irregularity is now stopping at his desk.
The last hope of the Congress is now Rahul Gandhi. But, even the party’s ‘default’ position in Indian politics is seriously threatened by AAP, which is harvesting its Delhi success by reaping one shining light after another from the hitherto uninvolved yet influential sections of society.
Even if Manmohan Singh manages to evade responsibility for the numerous scams that took place under his watch, the danger is that he may well become just a footnote in history. He should ‘enjoy’ what remains of his stint in the post he has loved so much that he never considered resigning.