Report card on Manmohan Singh: clean and good man, but not decisive(Four years of UPA government)

May 20th, 2008 - 2:10 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Monobina Gupta
New Delhi, May 20 (IANS) Soaring food prices are pounding the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government as it completes four years in office Thursday. But, notwithstanding the uncertainty ahead of the 2009 general election, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can safely claim credit for surviving the convulsions of coalition politics that have claimed more than one government in the past. Manmohan Singh, with his professorial aura and understated ways, has managed to slough through the slush of real politic, putting paid to the predictions of doom aired by politicos and pundits.

With a first class honours degree in economics from Cambridge University and a PhD from Oxford, the prime minister was a sitting duck for his foes, some of whom predicted that his government was doomed — in part because of his lack of political stature and also due to the coalition’s inherent weaknesses.

Spiking the doomsayers, the academic-turned-politician prime minister eventually survived many ‘Ides of March’. His multi-party government, even when stricken to its bones by the Left’s sting over the India-US nuclear deal, is still on its feet.

Manmohan Singh is one who has survived by skirting the battle rather than plunging into it.

Nupur Roy, an M.Phil student in the Delhi School of Economics where the prime minister used to teach, told IANS: “He is a good economist, not a good politician. A poor leader, he has not been able to bring his alliance partners to support him on the India-US nuclear deal.”

So what, asks Usha Kaushal, a housewife.

“The government is doing a good job,” says Kaushal, a Congress supporter. Even the rise in prices of essential commodities was part of an “international phenomenon,” she says.

Not everyone agrees.

Manmohan Singh’s critics say he could never really be his “own person” with the hovering presence of 10, Janpath, always shadowing his path, at times staying his hand.

He is believed to feel indebted to Sonia Gandhi for the post she bequeathed to him after she turned her back on it. That would explain his occasional obsequious actions, his silence and lack of decisiveness.

“After Rahul Gandhi started his campaign in Uttar Pradesh, the prime minister said he was the ‘future of India’. I did not like it. It was an indiscreet statement to make,” said Kuldip Nayar, columnist and a former Rajya Sabha MP.

The real crucible of power, since the day the UPA government took charge, has resided at 10, Janpath — at least this is the widespread belief.

Minus Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh could have pushed harder for passing the Pension Bill in parliament. The Left parties, which support his government and were unhappy with the bill, rushed to Sonia Gandhi when they felt that the prime minister may push it through.

But the government managed to allow 74 percent of foreign investment in telecommunication by an executive order because the Left’s support was not required.

“On the whole, despite the India-US nuclear deal and uneasy relationship with the Left, there is a sense of political stability. The UPA government has carried out important programmes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). It may be electorally motivated - but in a democracy things are done with elections in mind,” said Dhirubhai Seth, a political analyst at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

A host of problems, however, remain, problems the prime minister will have to tackle on a war footing if the Congress wants to regain power in the 2009 Lok Sabha ballot.

Checking price rise is one and maintaining communal harmony is another. Making progress in peace talks with Pakistan, which has not formally ended its support to the separatist campaign in Jammu and Kashmir, and curbing terrorism are also major issues before the government.

At the end of four years of governance, the prime minister comes through, in the eyes of most Indians, as a “clean” and “good” person - perhaps a bit too genteel and, unfortunately, not very decisive.

At times, the prime minister looks a forlorn figure, stomped by canny politicians, given the short shrift by sections within his own party. But they know that he enjoys Sonia Gandhi’s trust — and that is it.

Last month, Manmohan Singh was seen reading Noam Chomsky in parliament library. As the fourth anniversary of his government inches closer, Manmohan Singh perhaps felt the pull to go back to his cerebral roots - the library.

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