History will be kind to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
History will be kind to Manmohan Singh. It will remember him as the finance minister who launched India’s economic reforms in 1991, and the Prime Minister who presided over 8.5% GDP growth for most of a decade.
It will also remember him as a Sikh who was nominated for Prime Ministership by a Christian Congress president and sworn in by a Muslim President in a country that is 82% Hindu.
Why will he not be remembered as the man under whom economic growth halved from 9% to 4.5%, inflation averaged almost 10% for five years, and unending scams culminated in the worst-ever electoral defeat for the Congress party? For the same reason that Abraham Lincoln is not remembered for scandalous dirty tricks and bribes to get his way (displayed memorably in the film ‘Lincoln’ ).
Nor is Lincoln remembered as the hypocrite who won the election as a moderate on slavery, arguing that states had a constitutional right to slavery if they so wished, but then declared in 1863 that he had the power to abolish slavery by decree.
Few people know or care about Lincoln’s failings: these pale beside his great achievement of abolishing slavery.
Similarly, people will forget Manmohan Singh’s failings, and remember him as the father of economic reform and superfast growth. This superfast growth persuaded George Bush to offer India a seat in the nuclear club, ending nuclear apartheid.
It also persuaded Barack Obama to promise US support to India for a UN Security Council seat. These landmarks will remain in the history books long after the 2G scam is forgotten.
Set aside the history books: let’s talk about today, as Singh demits office. Many critics complain that he didn’t do enough in 10 years of rule. This criticism is mis-worded since it assumes that Singh has been ruling India, when the unquestioned ruler has been Sonia Gandhi.
Formal democratic titles mean nothing in the semi-feudal ethos of the Congress Party. Only the dynasty matters.
This is a party where all members are supposed to sit up and beg when any member of the Gandhi family whistles. Its members have no rationale, purpose or hope of power save through the grace of the Gandhis.
Dynastic feudalism is, of course evident in other parties too, like those of Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Deve Gowda, Jagan Reddy, Karunanidhi and sundry others. But the Congress has been the pioneer and greatest practitioner of feudal rule.
The wazir in a feudal court has some powers, but must know his place in the power structure, or else lose his head.
Manmohan Singh was fully aware of and agreeable to this when he accepted the Prime Ministership. A seasoned bureaucrat, he was used to proposing ideas but retreating respectfully if opposed by his boss. He was ideal for Sonia, a respected technocrat with absolutely no political base or ambitions, who could serve but not threaten the dynasty.
This dynasty has generated more black money than all others combined. It found very useful Singh’s unimpeachable reputation for integrity. This provided some cover to the dynasty when scams exploded. But it damaged Singh’s own reputation.
Remember the scene from the film ‘Dabangg’ where Malaika Arora dances in front of Salman Khan singing “Munni badnam hui, Darling tere liye?” This inspired a cartoon showing Manmohan Singh dancing in front of Sonia Gandhi, singing “Munna badnam hua, Darling tere liye.”
In dynastic terms, Singh should perhaps be judged not as a Prime Minister but as a regent, keeping the throne warm for the young prince, under the watchful gaze of the Dowager Empress.