The continuance of Manmohan Singh in office as Prime Minister has become indefensible. I should not be mistaken as toeing the holier-than-thou Opposition line: The BJP, in particular, is in the ludicrous habit of demanding everybody’s resignation at the drop of a hat. If it had its way, all the ministries would by now be in charge of vacant chairs.
I do not have the stomach for joining the self-righteous populist chorus wanting him out. Nor have I been carried away by the vitriolic attacks on him in highly influential and widely read publications such as Time magazine, The Washington Post , The Wall Street Journal , et al.
I shall not allow myself to be swept off my feet by India’s media hounds either, baying blisteringly for his blood. I, however, cannot help noting in passing, by scrolling through the Internet hundreds of columns, commentaries and editorials carried by the print media in English, Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and Urdu (the languages that I know), as also watching the electronic media in the same languages, in the past few days that the tide of opinion is all flowing in a torrent against poor Singh.
Here I parenthetically wish to give vent to my curiosity about the exact role of Pankaj Pachauri, Communications Adviser to the PMO (that is precisely how he signs himself). The order appointing him said that he “will advise the PMO on communication strategies in print, electronic and social media” and while doing so “will report directly to the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Pulok Chatterjee”. He has been given the status and salary of a Secretary to Government.
He briefly surfaced to take on Simon Denyer, the India bureau chief of The Washington Post , for his article describing Singh as a “dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government”, and suffered a black eye in the bargain handed by both Denyer and the Post .
We, the People, have so far had no means of knowing whether he has been giving the PMO (meaning Pulok Chatterjee) any advice on communications strategies bearing his stamp, and if so, what their impact has been.
All right, getting back to the Prime Minister, the gravamen of my complaint against him is that his running of the PMO, leave alone the entire Government, has belied all his experience of the interstices of the governmental apparatus and the bureaucratic machine, and shown no evidence of the mastery of principles of governance I would have expected him to have acquired over a period of several decades in high positions of decision-making.
The PMO under him has been a disaster. If only he had provided strong leadership and insisted on stern follow-up, which even a far younger and politically inexperienced Rajiv Gandhi was able to do through Sarla Khanna, my close friend and batchmate in the IAS, the scams could all have been stopped in their tracks.
Even a neophyte in charge of the Coal Ministry would have done better than what Singh has shown himself capable of doing. It is evident from the affidavit filed by Ranjit Sinha, CBI Director, before the Supreme Court that there was total absence of any system regarding allocation of specific blocks for mining.
To add to the scope for misdemeanours, the recommendations made by the Screening Committee had no supporting comparative charts and broadsheets and yet they were approved by Singh apparently without the exercise of any scrutiny either by himself or the PMO.These omissions were included by the CBI as its “tentative findings” in the status report it “shared” with the Law Minister, Ashwani Kumar, and the an official each of the PMO and the Coal Ministry but were promptly deleted by them.
The Manual of Secretariat Rules and Procedures which the British rulers had thoughtfully prepared for themselves and which every functionary is asked meticulously to go through even today categorically states that nothing can be said to have been done in good faith if it had not been done with “due care and caution”. Judged by this yardstick, the impugned decisions taken by the Prime Minister holding charge of the Coal Ministry can only be characterised as having been taken in bad faith.
Going by public and political perception among all sections of opinion in the country, Manmohan Singh has become a liability on a number of counts. It is this realisation, perhaps, that led Sonia Gandhi to brave unhealthy speculation about her differences with him and take the unprecedented step of leaning on him to get rid of the Ministers of Law and Railways.
There have been broad hints galore before Singh: All that was not done was to show him the door. The best advice he can give to himself is to depart gracefully while the going is good.