There is a leadership vacuum at the Centre, with no evidence whatsoever of Manmohan Singh being in charge.

No other Independence Day has filled the nation with so many forebodings as today’s has. It is past the stage of gloom and despondency and taken on the complexion of anxiety, and even alarm, about what the future holds.

Everything — law and order, security, dealings between the Centre and the States, strategic relations with countries which count, governance, economy — seems to be coming unstuck. Things appear to be in a state of turmoil, and, indeed, falling apart, in every direction.

Until about a couple of years ago, India’s credentials to emerge as an economic power on the world stage, on par with the US and China, and pushing Japan behind, were accepted without question.

Not any more. A series of announcements by rating agencies whose word is final to most foreign financial institutions and investors severely downgrading India’s standing, capped by Moody’s pegging the growth outlook at not more than 5.5 per cent, have perceptibly undermined the trust in India’s ability to turn itself around in the foreseeable future.

Of late, a mocking and derisive tone has begun creeping into many of the writings on India by political and economic analysts.

One indication of the put-down is the near-blanking out of Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s plan for reviving the economy in the media of industrial countries. Even the expected write-ups on his rather unusual recall by the UPA dispensation were missing.

One could read the thoughts that must be passing through the minds of observers who, whatever their preconceptions or predispositions, are shrewd and perspicacious to a degree.

Even if one chooses to be disdainfully dismissive of what foreigners think about us, it will be a monumental dereliction of duty, and perhaps an invitation to Indian Spring or worse, on the part of the powers-that-be to ignore the widespread frustration and discontent among all sections of opinion within India itself.

SWIRLING ALLEGATIONS

Truth to tell, the Government of UPA-II may claim the notional advantage of numbers in the Lok Sabha, but all signs are that it has long ago lost the confidence of the people.

Barring two or three Ministers, not one among the others comes anywhere the stature that a Minister of a country like India should command.

They are either misfits or bunglers or both, besides being at the centre of persistently swirling allegations about corruption.

India’s politicians, as a class, have simply no idea of the contempt and anger their lifestyles and work habits evoke among the people.

Whatever the party labels they may sport, and whatever holier-than-thou games they may play with each other, when it comes to exploiting the system to extract the last ounce of self-indulgence in terms of personal or pecuniary gratification, they are all birds of the same feather. “Tickle-me-Toby-and I’ll-tickle-you” is the eternal trademark of these Tweedledums and Tweedledees.

The whole state of affairs is reaching a breaking point because of the leadership vacuum at the very top.

It is no exaggeration to say that people have been driven crazy by the fact of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being invisible and incommunicado, and utterly oblivious, at least in the public eye, to what goes on around him.

To be direct and blunt, there has been not one scintilla of evidence of his being in charge, leave alone his providing inspirational leadership on the model of Winston Churchill during the war, or Jawaharlal Nehru or Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in the early years of Independence, or even Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi after their own fashion and according to their own lights.

PASSIVITY AKIN TO PARALYSIS

During the recent debate in the Lok Sabha on the Adjournment Motion on the riots and killings in Assam, Manmohan Singh sat, like one of Madame Tussaud’s figures, through all the commotion generated by L.K.Advani’s verbal barbs against the UPA, which stirred even the normally staid Sonia Gandhi to the extent of her pushing the Treasury benches into retaliatory shouting.

In such a situation, a Nehru would have immediately stood up and taken command of the House, and by deft touches of the right sentiments in the right language restored harmony and goodwill.

Or take the shape that Baba Ramdev’s movement has assumed. It is as if he alone is striding the entire landscape, whipping into a frenzy his swelling followers with his Mark Antony-like orations, and the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues are nowhere in the picture.

Actually, thanks largely to the passivity akin to paralysis of the Government, the Baba has been able to wash off much of the muck the Government contrived to stick on him and has emerged as an admired knight-errant of rectitude in public life, forcing the Government to cower.

Here again, a dynamic, self-confident and, at the same time, sensitive, Prime Minister would have seized the initiative right at the start of the brewing of trouble, pressed into service the whole paraphernalia of communications facilities, reached out to the people, and won them over with a clear, convincing and constructive exposition of his approach to the various issues at stake which are agitating the people’s minds.

The constituents of the UPA, in their mistaken sense of loyalty to party or individual, should not let this dangerous drift, resulting from the leadership vacuum, so palpable and so patent, to continue.

They should realise that the nation is above every other consideration.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the time has come for Manmohan Singh to become an Emeritus Prime Minister.

The greatest and best service he can do at this stage is to hand the baton to someone else and take some well-earned rest.

I shouldn’t worry too much over who that someone else is: For aught I care, it could be Rahul Gandhi, Digvijay Singh or even Sonia Gandhi herself. Whoever it is, it is bound to be a distinct improvement on the present parlous situation.

(This article was published on August 14, 2012)
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