MANMOHAN: INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN

Geopolitical notes from India

M D Nalapat

Friday, February 14, 2014 – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has many friends. His charm and powerful mind have ensured that several who came in contact with him get entranced by the man. Years ago ,in 2003,when he was only Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House),this columnist called on him at Parliament and predicted that the way politics was developing in the country, he would soon become the Prime Minister. The gentle economist did not brush away the suggestion, but merely smiled as he bade farewell. Mohammad El Baradei, the former IAEA boss, is among the many statespersons who regard Manmohan Singh as among the most impressive individuals he has ever met. Although his declared economic philosophy is very different from that of Jawaharlal Nehru, those who are loud in their hero worship of India’s first Prime Minister are equally filled with praise about Manmohan, Amartya Sen being an example. The Nobel Prizeman is among the more famous acolytes of the Nehru family, and is a close personal friend of the PM, as he is of Dr Singh’s boss, Sonia Gandhi. Why boss? Because from the start of his two terms in office, it has been Sonia Gandhi who has in effect been the Prime Minister of India.

This columnist even in 2005 wrote of Sonia Gandhi as the “Real” PM with Manmohan as the “Virtual” PM, because by then it had become clear that every single minister in what passed for the Manmohan Singh Council of Ministers looked for guidance to Sonia Gandhi (referred to as 10 Janpath, in view of the fear that her name evokes in a context where Finance Minister Chidambaram and Home Minister Shinde stand ever ready to act in situations where critics are seen to cross red lines in their opposition to the Congress President).A few weeks after Manmohan Singh took over, this columnist had pointed out that all that was needed to establish his leadership over the team was to force a junior minister to resign or any senior official close to 10 Janpath to get transferred to a less prestigious posting. This never happened. Rather, officials would get juggled around based on the whims of the Congress Party leadership rather than because of administrative logic.

The case of a senior police officer, P M Nair,is instructive. In 1997, he had been in the task force investigating the Bofors scam, where bribes were paid by a Swedish company to VVIPs in India. It was only under then Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda that the Bofors scam was correctly investigated.Every Prime Minister before and since ensured that the guilty escaped. P M Nair never bothered whether those he investigated were close to the Congress leadership or not. He simply did his duty, and he did it well. However, that caused him to some within the sights of an informal radar of officials seen as hostile to 10 Janpath. Not only during the period when Manmohan Singh has been in office ,but when Atal Behari Vajpayee too was the PM, those officials on the anti-Sonia radar saw their careers slow down and even collapse, even while favourites zoomed forward to bigger and better postings, often ending up as Governors of states, ensconced in the mansions left behind by their British predecessors. The “real” government ensured that the higher reaches of the bureaucracy got filled by those who would unquestionably obey signals that flowed in abundance from those close to the Congress leadership. The economic quagmire that India is presently in owes its origin to the manner in which resources such as Spectrum, Oil and Coal were handed over almost free of (declared) cost to Crony Capitalists.

These usually refused to pass on the benefits of the low price of acquisition to the people of the country, instead gouging them through high prices. In many cases, they either refused to produce in marketable form the natural asset they had been gifted, or else produced quantities far lower than what was possible and expected. India was systematically violated – and this is the only word which can describe the process of control and misutilisation of natural resources under Manmohan Singh – and reduced to chaos.

Although the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has slapped a few desultory prosecutions on a few officials, the Big Fish, those whose telephone calls led to decisions getting taken on the award of natural resources to Crony Capitalists, have escaped. This is natural, as the leadership of the CBI comprises of police officials with a track record of adjusting to the secret wishes of selected VVIPs, and who themselves have amassed vast sums of money in the course of their careers.Sadly, those who claim to be “Opposition” leaders are themselves often participants in the loot, getting a regular cut in deals in exchange for silence. As a consequence, few believe that there will ever be a bringing of the guilty to account, even if the Congress Party loses the May 2014 General Elections. Most of the big names in the opposition, especially those who were members of the Council of Ministers during the Vajpayee period ( 1998-2004) have a track record of assisting Sonia Gandhi and her close confidants to lead a privileged existence. Indeed, Prime Minister Vajpayee went the extra million miles to help Sonia, even shifting ministers such as Maneka Gandhi and Murli Manohar Joshi who sought to impose some accountability on the numerous state-funded trusts controlled by Sonia Gandhi and those close to her. His ministers were eager participants in such moves, and are looking forward to a second stint in power courtesy the Narendra Modi wave rolling across the country .

Manmohan Singh’s refusal to enforce probity and efficiency within his team is what has resulted in the present meltdown of governance in India. Each ministry functions as it likes, especially if it is commanded by a minister who has more influence over Sonia Gandhi than Manmohan Singh, ministers such as Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram. The PMO is helpless to enforce accountability and coordination among key ministries, with the result that the machinery of government has slipped into paralysis. The legacy of Manmohan Singh will be that of a Prime Minister who has almost destroyed the country by his abdication of responsibility to political operators. A sad ending for the decade in office of a man universally known to be honest and scholarly .

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

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