From Manmohanomics to Manmohanotics

From Manmohanomics to Manmohanotics

If you saw the newspapers on Thursday, you must have noticed near unanimity in the coverage given to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's reply to the...

If you saw the newspapers on Thursday, you must have noticed near unanimity in the coverage given to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's reply to the debate on the motion of thanks to the President for his address to Parliament. 'PM gets aggressive, takes on BJP & Modi', said one headline. 'In a rare show of aggression, PM hits back', said another. In the same vein was the headline that read: 'We will make it again, combative PM tells Rajnath'. The message is clear and it is two-fold: One, the Prime Minister is exuding confidence in his government's ability to ward off any challenge from the BJP in the 2014 polls; two, he is firing on all cylinders to get back at the BJP. Whether he delivers the vote to the Congress is not the issue. Nor whether the posturing is the final burst of a dying flame, as BJP President Rajnath Singh likes to believe. Also not an issue is whether Rahul Gandhi will opt for his own mukhota in UPA-III if the electorate remains unimpressed by Moditva. The issue, as presented by the reports, is the sudden transformation of mild-mannered Singh into combative Singh and his recourse to Urdu poetry and economics to silence his saffron critics. Ever since he took over the reins of government in 2004, the general impression across the country has been that Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister, is apolitical, and that he has no ambitions or goal posts of his own. He is also seen as gentleman economist, who is at the wrong place at the wrong time. The Hindu Hrudaya Samrat from Gujarat sought to perpetuate this very image when he described Singh as the 'Night Watchman' of Congress party's First Family. Image is often a media creation. Since the media, particularly the byte-hungry 24x7 TV channels, are instant historians, the image peddled often has less relevance to reality, but they persist with the image of their creation. More often than not, there is a herd mentality amongst us and the result is we blindly carry forward an image that is presented.
For instance, look at the sports pages. P T Usha is still described as the sprint queen. She was. Not any longer. But the term has stuck. Don't take this as criticism of the Kerala athlete. The point is that media refuses to take back the USP it has awarded to anyone. The Prime Minister doesn't take the floor of Parliament often, and whenever he does, generally he does no more than a brief intervention to make a point or set the record straight. All this reinforces the image of the economist-bureaucrat-turned-politician. Some elementary research of Parliament's records of the past decade will show that Manmohan Singh can be really aggressive in taking on the Opposition. L K Advani, the BJP patriarch, knows this first hand from 2004 when his Shining India lost its sheen. Ever since the 'Sardar-II' clashed with him at the hustings as NDA's Prime Ministerial candidate, he has become Singh's favourite punching bag. Note his latest diatribe: "The BJP fielded an iron man (in 2004) who said Manmohan Singh is the lamb. We all know what happened. People will repeat the same feat". Well, the question is not whether Advani deserved the dig or whether he invited the barbs with his continued attacks on Singh. The point is that Singh-speak is not an economist-speak. He may not be cast in the mould of an average politician who enjoys the cut and thrust of a parliamentary debate. But whenever the situation so demanded, he has not disappointed the party that made him the head of the UPA-I and II governments. Otherwise, he would not have quoted the couplet � 'Jo garajte hain, who baraste nahin' (mere thunder doesn't bring rain) to drive home his claim. As Prime Minister, Singh's most cherished achievement is the civilian nuclear deal with the United States. He could not be unaware of anti-America and anti-nuclear ayatollahs at the AK Gopalan Bhavan, who were propping up UPA-1 from outside. Still he went ahead and made the Congress party leaders defend him on and outside the floor of Parliament. Only an astute politician can package the deal, which for a lay politician appeared as political suicide, as Power Nirvana and get away. Neither energy-hungry India nor business-savvy America has benefited from Singh-Bush deal as yet. Had the deal worked in the way it should, the country would have been dotted with new modern temples of energy that would have wished away load-shedding in the months of summer. You cannot blame the economist. You have to take solace from the expression, 'system's failure' he himself had coined to describe Harshad Mehta scam that had shaken the government in which he was the finance minister. Like the Prime Minister, who made him look after the financial health of the nation, Singh is a product of Nehru era but, unlike his contemporaries in the academic world, ideological fundamentalism is not his forte. The country has benefited in no small measure as a result. He might have looked to Hiteswar Saikia, the chief minister of Assam, for two terms, for a home in Guwahati when Nirvachan Sadan hounded him out. But he, like a politician, knew the pulse of the nation, which was waiting in 1991 eagerly to unchain its animal spirits. Also, when to tell the Congress Parliamentary Party, (CPP), leader, who had made him a politician in the first place, that Caesar's wife must be above suspicion. It is difficult to wish away the perception that Manmohan Singh lacks political authority as Prime Minister and that it has resulted in a leadership crisis in governance. In the past four or five months he has managed to put in the correctives in place. Why he did not do so much earlier? We don't know. We may not know. We only know transition from Manmohanomics to Manmohanotics is complete. (The writer can be reached at
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