Stuck in the wrong job

Ranabir Ray Choudhury | Updated on September 11, 2012

Manmohan Singh is not cut out for the rough and tumble of Indian politics. — PTI

Last Friday, the Prime Minister reportedly said that urgent challenges were facing the nation such as “terrorism, declining growth and unrest in the North-East” and that the Government needed to tackle them on an urgent basis.

He, however, said: “We cannot do this if the Government is constantly distracted by the actions of those who prefer obstruction over discussion.” He further said, “Those who follow this path detract from India’s prestige as the world’s largest Parliamentary democracy. They are unwittingly only serving the ends of those who want to weaken the country and discredit institutions.”

Cut to the Anna Hazare civil society campaign last year against corruption where the Government strongly argued that no one in the Republic had the sanction to usurp the legislative powers of Parliament, which was supreme in this specific sphere by virtue of the functions bestowed on it by the Constitution. Come to think of it, every word of the accusation made by the Prime Minister in the preceding paragraph against those who have been disrupting the functioning of the Lok Sabha vis-a-vis Coalgate could be applied to the Hazare group but with one critical change, namely, that this time the target is a section of Parliamentarians themselves and not “civil society groups” who were willy-nilly accorded “second-class citizen” status compared to the MPs.

Character assasination

Since the basic issue is once again corruption and this time around MPs are involved, it can safely be said that the politicisation of the India Against Corruption campaign has taken place successfully, which is what Hazare wanted when he opted for the political route to target the issue. So now the Congress is not fighting a civil society which does not have “Parliamentary” status but its own political peers who comprise the 15th Lok Sabha. In other words, the Prime Minister is once again using the same argument of disruption of Constitutional institutions, but this time against the Opposition?

There is nothing strange in all this if one considers that the basic campaign issue remains the subject of Corruption. The fact that Opposition (and other) politicians have got together to make an issue of it — even to the extent of disrupting their own work as Parliamentarians — serves to underline the fact that the scourge of corruption has become so severe in Indian society that any serious campaign against it is bound to attract the support of the country. And, for the Opposition, perhaps even serve as a chariot on which to ride to victory in the next Lok Sabha elections.

Mud on congress’ face

It is clear that the Congress is finding itself in a spot today, because the only way it can counter effectively the BJP’s “corruption assault” is to hijack the issue and become an even greater campaigner against corruption in public life, which it cannot do just now without throwing mud on its own face. This may be one reason why the present tactic is to use the “disruption to Parliament’s functioning” route to hit back at the Opposition, which is really a self-defeating ploy because it evokes memories of the “legislative supremacy of Parliament” argument employed in the Hazare case — and Parliamentarians themselves are the disrupters this time!

Clearly, at the moment, Manmohan Singh is the right man in the wrong place, as Prime Minister. He is not cut out to produce positive governance in a society where corruption has become a way of life; neither is he a political animal who can get the better of his scheming compatriots in times like these. Professor Singh is cutting a sorry figure today, and one really wonders whether he should not step aside. But can he, or rather will he be allowed to?

Published on September 11, 2012

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