Opinion

Warming the seat

Ranabir Ray Choudhury | Updated on January 09, 2014

The Buddha smiles: Baton to Rajiv.

Is Manmohan Singh an over-rated economist and an under-rated politician?



There is nothing to mark out Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s two terms as being particularly decisive for India, apart from his determination to get the nuclear deal with the US off the ground. Unwittingly perhaps, the press conference he held the other day in the capital set the seal on the style of his governance: low-key to the point of becoming irrelevant.

Indeed, the first question that strikes is: Why did Dr Singh hold only three press conferences during the nine-and-a-half years he has been in the hot seat considering that he is a great believer in democracy and the press has always been a bulwark of the democratic process?

If this is because he does not like the Indian press or that he does not believe the press plays an important part, then, clearly, this is a major flaw in his persona as a leader. That he does not like the press or concur with it is quite clear from his remark that he “honestly believed that history will be kinder to me than the contemporary media or, for that matter, the Opposition parties in Parliament”.

Media in leadership

As history has repeatedly shown, an effective political leader never fails to use, or exploit, the media to his or her advantage. If this acceptable, is it then correct to describe Manmohan Singh, as some have done lately, as “an over-rated economist and an under-rated politician”? If the Prime Minister has been a politician at all, he has used all his resources not to be seen on the wrong side of the Congress chief, Sonia Gandhi, even going to the extent of describing her son, Rahul, as being the repository of “outstanding credentials to be nominated as the (prime ministerial) candidate”.

Rahul Gandhi is young— seemingly his only plus point. His focus on the campaign against corruption is welcome, but there are others like Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal who have been able to make a much more forceful impact on the national scene. As a political leader, he has failed miserably if one is to go by the results of the recently-held Assembly polls. If, to Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi stands out because of his family links, it is a tragedy for India that such a person should have been prime minister for nearly a decade.

Man of integrity

At a personal level, there is no doubt that Manmohan Singh’s sense of probity is of the highest order. But can this be the only qualification to be an effective prime minister? By his own admission he was “the one who insisted that spectrum allocation should be transparent”, that “coal blocks should be allocated on the basis of auctions”. And yet the scandals erupted.

Quite clearly, he failed to act upon his good intentions. In other words, he has been a weak prime minister in a situation where good work could only be done by powerful politicians/administrators.

When Sonia Gandhi decided to make Manmohan Singh prime minister, it was widely believed that he would only be warming the chair for either herself or her son to take on the mantle at some point of time. It has taken all of a decade for the incubation period to end, but the issue of succession is yet to be settled. It could be Sonia Gandhi herself or yet another politically weak technocrat.

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Published on January 09, 2014
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