Whenever a person is armed, it makes no sense to shoot first. This was the mistake Mamata Banerjee made and has now been shot by Mulayam Singh, who says he will not withdraw support to the UPA.

What a pity that Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, did not seek her Finance Minister’s counsel before announcing that she would withdraw her party’s support to the UPA Government if it did not obey her.

Amit Mitra, her Finance Minister, when he isn’t defending her with terror in his demeanour, can think like an economist because he is one, with a PhD from Duke University and all that. Had she asked him, he may have told her about what in Game theory is called the Mexican Standoff.

It involves three (or more) gunmen (or women), each with his (or her) gun pointing at the others. The question is whether to shoot first. But there is a problem. Suppose Gunman 1 shoots first and kills Gunman 2. In the instant that he pulls the trigger, Gunman 3 shoots him.

Moral: Whenever a person is armed, it makes no sense to shoot first. This was the mistake Mamata Banerjee made and has now been shot by Mulayam Singh who says he will not withdraw support to the UPA.

The right timimg

Game, set and match to Manmohan Singh. He has pulled it off once again. The last time someone was stupid enough to take him on — remember Prakash Karat’s threat in 2008 over the Indo-US nuclear deal? — the same thing happened.

Singh may not sing, but he is always emerges King because he manages to get his timing right. He waits patiently, and then strikes when the moment is right.

What to say? Much has been said and written about Singh’s silence. He has become a butt of jokes. He has been called names. But no one is able to answer the question: If he broke his silence, what was he supposed to have said?

I asked many people to write a speech for him saying what they thought he should say. There has been zero response, for the simple reason that when you actually pin people down, they are not able to come up with a single thing that should go into such a speech.

Track record

There remains, of course, the question of the coal block allotments. Singh can’t get away from the most uncomfortable fact of his career, namely, that he was the Coal Minister when the allocations were made. He should have offered to resign. Indeed, given his track record with resignations, he may well have.

For those who may have forgotten, he offered to resign as RBI Governor in 1983, when the then Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, threatened to take away the RBI’s bank licensing powers if a licence was not issued to Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which eventually went bust in 1991.

He offered to resign as Finance Minister in 1991 when Balram Jakhar and Arjun Singh opposed the one rupee increase in the price of urea. And he, in fact, did resign after the Harshad Mehta case in 1992. He had also offered to resign just over the nuclear deal, or so one hears.

This record suggests that he may well have offered to quit this time also, if only because he is prone to do that when he feels the moral responsibility is his. In the past, he was persuaded not to. Could this have happened this time also?

It seems his biography is being written by one of his closest relatives. One must hope that it will tell the whole story.

(This article was published on September 21, 2012)
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