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Singh is a good man...Is he becoming an ineffective PM?

Singh is a good man...Is he becoming an ineffective PM?

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: Samachar.com
Date: December 27, 2004
URL: http://www.samachar.com/features/271204-features.html

Since politics fortunes are made as much on the strength of perceptions as ground realities, conventional wisdom has it that the Congress-led UPA Government is sitting pretty and that it is the opposition BJP which is confronted by existential turbulence.

Two set of developments bolster such impressions. First, the return of "secular" bias as common sense in the media, a phenomenon bolstered by expedient endorsements of the present dispensation by visiting left-liberal dinosaurs like Amartya Sen and Eric Hobsbawm.

Second, the desperation of every unworthy member of the BJP National Executive to second guess the leadership, say something quite outrageous and, in the process, make complete asses of themselves and the party. When the impression gains ground that the BJP leadership has a soft corner for glamour and is desperate for social acceptability, serious politics is naturally overwhelmed by the shenanigans of wide-eyed starlets who want to spend Christmas Day fasting in self-praise.

Fortunately, a contrived bubble doesn't take much to burst. It took only one superlative parliamentary performance by Atal Behari Vajpayee to get the government into a complete tizzy over the insolence of a Railway Minister who treats parliamentary accountability as an unnecessary chore.

It took one pointed charge of dictatorial conduct from Vajpayee to deflate the imperious partisanship of a Marxist stalwart. And it took the vigilance of one journalist to inform the nation that for selfprofessed Nehruvians, national consensus stops at anything the dynasty didn't have a hand in. It finally took Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to reassure the country that India's nuclear assets are safe despite the "personal views" of his worthy External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh.

Predictably, the Prime Minister skirted answering whether India can be adequately represented internationally by someone who refuses to subordinate personal views to national policy. Natwar Singh told Parliament that India would not accept permanent membership of a revamped Security Council unless it was accompanied by a veto power.

Later, Indian diplomats began running like headless chicken when even our trusted President Vladimir Putin of Russia thought this was taking things a bit too far. Was this grandstanding the minister's "personal view" or is it national policy decided by the Cabinet?

Subsequent events confirmed that Natwar was speaking for himself and himself alone. Of course, he wasn't alone. It is well know that Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, a self-professed "secular fundamentalist", wants special friendly relations with Pakistan at all costs.

He wants the proposed Iran-Pakistan- India pipeline to be a monument of peace. The Pakistanis, predictably, are not interested. They want to talk Kashmir or nothing meaningful. To skirt this awkward problem, Mani proposes two separate agreements: India negotiates the purchase of gas from Iran and Iran, on its part, enters into an understanding for the smooth pipeline transfer of the black gold to India. It was a clever idea.

Unfortunately, it lacks any sanction of the Government of India. It hasn't even been discussed in Cabinet. It is pertinent to ask for a formal delineation of personal views from national policy because it has become impossible to know one from the other. Mani Shankar Aiyar's petulant anti- Savarkar gesture was no doubt a "personal" view, if what the Prime Minister said at his press conference last September is any indication.

Likewise, Arjun Singh's "detoxification" campaign is perhaps a personal initiative since the more academically-inclined Prime Minister has openly said that bad scholarship is not a Right prerogative alone. There are as many charlatans who claim to be Left.

The irony is that it is the Prime Minister who has been reduced to expressing his "personal" views. His ministers and advisers are a law unto themselves. And apart from the Lalu- Paswan spat, the civil war is being waged by Congress ministers against each other.

Even Tourism Minister Renuka Chowdhury doesn't think twice about going public about an insignificant inter-departmental spat with Culture and I&B Minister S Jaipal Reddy. The consequences are both dangerous and amusing. The entire internal security apparatus is paralysed by conflicting signals.

The Prime Minister's internal security adviser is at odds with the intelligence establishment which, in turn, can't see eye-to-eye with the most inept Home Minister India has seen for a long time. To add to the farce, both the internal security adviser and the Home Minister have fundamental differences with the National Security Adviser.

The External Affairs Minister too can't understand why his post-Nehruvian diplomacy is being scrutinised in the PMO. Look at the consequences. The Naxalites strut around with impunity in Andhra Pradesh, cashing their political IOUs from the Congress. Their cadres celebrate the birthday of Charu Mazumdar by parading the people's army with AK-47s.

They brag about a "red corridor" from Nepal to the Tamil Nadu, and our Foreign Secretary advises Kathmandu to negotiate with the Maoists. A week later, there is a U-turn and King Gyanendra is told to instruct his army to get off its backsides and confront the reds. Was there a change of policy in seven days? On a subject that is so crucial to our national security?

Or has the Foreign Secretary too caught the infection and started airing his "personal" views? The examples can be multiplied. The Government lacks any coherence. It has become a confederacy of personal views and personal agendas.

And presiding over the heap is a Prime Minister who is not even calling the shots and, at times, not even being consulted. When in doubt, the ministers don't bother with the Prime Minister.

They go knocking on the door of Mother India, their real boss. And the real boss doesn't shy away from exercising power without a hint of responsibility. She nods, she instructs and Shivraj Patil equates her with Gautam Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi. And the Prime Minister is left carrying the can.

Manmohan Singh is a good man, a noble man. He is also increasingly becoming an ineffective Prime Minister. We are witnessing his decimation through old-style Congress intrigue. The political crisis many hoped had been averted may be upon India sooner than we imagined- despite the tomfoolery in the BJP.

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