Assessing Manmohan Singh: He was never a true reformist by instinct
Rare is the person who reads Robert Browning now. He wrote a poem titled “The Patriot” and it begins, “It was roses, roses, all the way, /With myrtle mixed in my path like mad.” Somewhere down the line, the poem says, “And you see my harvest, what I reap, /This very day, now a year is run.”
It has been more than a year now, seven years if one counts from 2004. As prime minister, Manmohan Singh (let’s call him MMS) is most likely on his way out, once the Congress figures out the exit policy.
Since clamours for removal have emanated from within the Congress too, we aren’t talking about 2014. More like 2012. As PM, the MMS legacy has been the nuclear deal, aborted peace initiatives with Pakistan and part-aborted agreements with Bangladesh. But MMS is an economist. As FM, he is the one who liberalised the economy in 1991 and reminded us about an idea (reforms) whose time has come.
Rao, Not Singh To put it mildly, the economy is in a shambles now. Reforms most likely are on permanent pause. The sound and fury over FDI in retail amounted to nothing. During UPA-I, we had RTI and NREG. The rest was a legacy. During UPA-II, we have Right to Education and may have Right to Food. As a reformer, lauded by the external world and urban India, I doubt MMS will be proud of this legacy.
But should we be surprised? We have conjured up an image of MMS as the original reforming FM. There are several problems with this identification. First, MMS wasn’t PV Narasimha Rao’s original choice as FM. IG Patel was, though that is neither here nor there. Second, the credit for those reforms should largely go to Rao, though the Congress conveniently chose to ignore this later. Indeed, MMS also distanced himself from Rao, though that too is perhaps neither here nor there, except that it reveals some of MMS’ personal attributes. The point is, any FM in 1991 would have had to introduce those reforms. The agenda was known. The blueprint was known.
All of these had been firmed up by the end of 1990. All that remained was for FM to read out the speech. MMS wasn’t the engineer or the architect. At best, he was the contractor.
Third, MMS may have been an economist once. But for years and years, he was a laterally inducted bureaucrat. A requisite characteristic of a successful bureaucrat is lack of conviction, economic, political or ideological.
You need to be malleable. And MMS was successful at that. It isn’t generally known that the “garibi hatao” slogan was thought of by MMS. Therefore, we have ourselves conjured up this ‘father of reforms’ image and MMS chose to go along.
Honest, But… Part of the image also concerns honesty. Honesty is a relative expression. I have been severely reprimanded by an MP for calling MPs and politicians dishonest. I have been advised to call them differently honest and there is a grain of truth in that.
There is absolutely no question that MMS is personally honest in pecuniary matters. I have plenty of anecdotes on this and so do all those who have interacted with him. But have you heard of House No. 3989, Nandan Nagar, Ward No. 51, Sarumataria? You probably haven’t. This is in Dispur and MMS is ostensibly a tenant there.
That’s because he is a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam. As I said, honesty is a relative term and I know of people who would baulk at this deception.
There is an anecdote in Yashwant Sinha’s book about how MMS had brought alone a file to Chandra Shekhar, who was then the PM, but had already resigned. The file concerned MMS’ appointment as UGC boss.
As Chandra Shekhar had already resigned as PM, he pointed out that he couldn’t morally sign the file. MMS retorted that he had backdated the file. Since this anecdote has gone uncontested, it is presumably true.
Therefore, if non-pecuniary transactions are involved, I have never been convinced MMS places a premium on “honesty”. It is for an individual to decide whether he feels comfortable looking at himself in the mirror.
I think this “personal honesty” point is driven too hard and is again part of the myth, not the reality. As is the statement, “MMS is not a politician”, with the word “politician” being used in a pejorative sense. In this context, what does the word politician mean? I guess it means someone who will do anything to further one’s own goals, even if it means discarding one’s friends and dining with the enemy. In politics, there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. Low on Charisma
If that is the definition, and not election to Lok Sabha or state assemblies, I find no evidence to suggest MMS is not a politician. On the contrary, I have met people who have worked with MMS in various capacities and who recount his ability to be extremely flexible for achieving goals. This is no big deal, in fact, it isn’t any deal at all.
The problem is with the MMS’s image. It’s far too removed from reality.
This leaves MMS’s attribute of humility, and I have plenty of anecdotes on that too. This attribute is without blemishes. But MMS never had fire in him. However, as FM, and as leader of the opposition later, he was fun to work with. He was knowledgeable and made you comfortable. As PM, and increasingly so, he looks tired and jaded.
I have refrained from personal anecdotes. But there is one I cannot resist. I forget the year. It was probably around 2000 and he was leader of the opposition in Rajya Sabha then. The context doesn’t matter for this story. I remarked, “Why don’t you forget all this? You will never become PM. Write a book.”
I wish he had never become PM, or had gracefully exited in 2009.
“Honest” PM Moneymohan Singh in action yet again. For an economist, seems surprisingly ignorant of profit/loss economics when it comes to serving the CONgress party. But wait! Profit for the party and loss for the country!
On December 30, 2005, the United Progressive Alliance government moved uncharacteristically fast. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh concurred with a note sent by a select group of ministers on a commercial contract on the very day it reached his office. Soon after, the aviation ministry under then minister Praful Patel informed the national carrier Air India about Singh’s decision. Air India promptly acted on it – all on the same day.
This contract was a Rs 33,197-crore deal Air India , signed with Boeing and General Electric to buy 50 planes. The sequence of events on that winter day is marked in red in a recent audit report of the aviation sector by the Comptroller and Auditor General, or CAG.
As it turned out, the plane acquisition deal triggered Air India’s nosedive. At the time of the deal, the airline was still in the black, with a net profit of Rs 96.3 crore on an income of Rs 7,630 crore in 2004/05. The airline had a Rs 1,801 crore balance sheet, of which debt was Rs 1,262 crore. Five years later in 2009/10, it would report a loss of Rs 5,552 crore – about twice the size of Sikkim’s economy – on an income of Rs 13,402 crore, along with a staggering debt of Rs 38,423 crore.
The single-day clearance is one of a number of dubious government decisions highlighted by the report. Similar revelations have also been made in another CAG report on the hydrocarbons sector. Both strongly criticise the government’s functioning, pointing out failures and systemic flaws in its processes.
PC or P.Chidambaram honble home minister is a multi-faceted man. A quick glance through his impressive dossier:
1. In the 1980s, attempted to impose shackles on the press, through getting legislation passed that was drafted by him, then a junior minister – says M.D Nalapat (fomer advisor to PM Narasimha Rao) – Controlling an already tamed media.
2. Pioneered the art of converting black money to white – says Jethmalani – Chidambaram, Friend, Father and Philosopher of black money
2. Criticized in parliament and Forced out Raju Narisetty editor of The Mint for publishing an IAS officer’s piece which was critical of the MMS govt on its inept handling of terror.
3. Got elected to parliament by an election which was very likely rigged — PC Poll Plea thrown out
4. Played a central role in the 2G scam.
5. Appointing and dismissing SEBI chairmen on personal whim and fancy – Regulation – Appointments and Disappointments
6. Allowed fraudulent Vodafone-Hutchinson deal of 14000 crores to go through.
Arnab Goswami’s panel to discuss the Prashant Bhushan assault deliberately included two “village simpletons” — Bhim Singh of Panthers Party and Rakesh Sinha of the RSS, the kind that can be predictably relied upon to provide the incendiary material that the sophisticates cannot stomach. The rest are glib tongued “intellectuals”. Arnab knows the Bhim types will fall for the bait he has in store for them. Predictably falling for this bait, Bhim and Rakesh while criticizing the violence, also say that Prashant Bhushan has no right to ask for plebiscite in J&K. Arnab and fellow buddhijeevis tch, tch this “uncouth”, “violent” Sanghi behavior and suggest that by the secular law of associativity and by a neat jump in logic, Bhim is actually ok with this violence. Ergo, this is typical violent behavior from the Sangh and the root behind all this is BJP-RSS. Mission accomplished. No such super logic is used when Islamic terrorists blow up people on a regular basis to arrive at similar general inferences.
Bhim Singh and Rakesh Sinha could have turned this around to Arnab actually. Using the same jump in logic it could be argued that those who fail to criticize Prashant Bhushan for saying that Kashmir can be independent are actually ok with losing J&K. And by the same law of associativity these are anti-nationals who can be jailed for sedition.
Prashant Bhushan was roughed up in his chambers supposedly by a youth of the Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena. Karmic retribution perhaps. While Prashant has been baiting nationalistic Indians recently with his vitriolic and anti-national views, the correct course of action for those who would like to respond to the likes of Prashant Bhushan is to make them answerable in a court of law. A hundred cases of sedition and treason, around the country, making him ping pong from court to court would work wonders. Also quite ironic that a maoist sympathiser should be so rattled by a few slaps.
Prashant’s father Shanti Bhushan has in the past defended the Arundhati ”Gandhians with Guns” Roy and also the notorious Teesta Setalvad. Like Arundhati Roy, Prashant Bhushan has been critical of supposed armed forces excess (asked for DNA profiling of unmarked graves) in Jammu and Kashmir. Prashant has not so much as blinked for the 350,000 Pandits languishing in refugee camps in his native Delhi but is hyper active with “liberal” causes — which in the Indian context is about pandering to the lowest common denominator in other religions/political systems.
Recently this column pointed out that the BJP/RSS should dump team Anna which has the likes of Prashant on its rolls. In light of his latest statement on plebiscite in J&K, this looks like a no brainer now.
Prashant Bhushan made an outrageous statement on Arnab Goswami’s program on Times Now today by saying that they would welcome support from the BJP and RSS even though they were communal. Team Anna is basically a group of rabble rouse leftists — the kind if in power, would ensure that their ego-centric leftist ideologies trump development and progress with a myriad of “intellectual” arguments to back them up. If the likes of Prashant Bhushan ever had the opportunity to run this country they would ensure that the country remained poor and hooked to handouts from the World Bank/Ford Foundation. The Magsaysay award is indeed precisely reserved for such worthies. I would predict that if they start tasting success, this movement would begin to look like what we had seen with say V.P Singh — seemingly clean at the outset but would later degenerate to some bizarre anti-national cause (like the Mandal movement) of their liking.
The JP movement against the dictatorial Indira Gandhi succeeded only with the support of the RSS and the Jan Sangh. If the BJP has the slightest iota of self respect they should ask Prashant to apologize else leave him and his team of opinionated limelight seekers to grind to dust. Even if the BJP helps them out, they will be dumped in the end and there will not be even the hint of a bare nod of gratitude as is evident right now. Far from it, it is likely that the Lok Pal bodies will be loaded with the likes of Prashant Bhushan and Santosh Hegde which would happily hunt the toothless tigers like the BJP down and bask in the limelight. Team Anna does not have the vertebrate strength to simply appreciate fundamental good from wherever it may come but constantly seeks to further their pet causes while pandering to pop political correctness (like the “communal BJP” view) no matter how absurd their basis. Team Anna better clarify what their view of the BJP/RSS really is before it can be lent support by the BJP. But given the lack of realpolitik on the part of the B JP leadership at the center I think the BJP will be used and flushed by the likes of Team Anna.
BJP support was crucial in getting over the Janlokpal impasse as per Kiran Bedi. Nice that somebody in the Anna team at least honestly acknowledged the support of the BJP. Left to the BJP itself, given its ineptness in media and publicity management, it would have done all the good work and been unable to extract any mileage out of it.