Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has finally broken his stony silence on the fast deteriorating state of the Indian economy. He has promised, at a meeting with ASSOCHAM -- an apex chamber of Indian industry -- that he will leave ‘no stone unturned to ensure that the economy rebounds.” But the patient is critically ill, its pulse rate meek and its core stone cold. The ‘good’ Doctor presided over the attempted murder of India’s growth story. It will not; it cannot; recover at his hands.
But Manmohan Singh is in deep denial. He still wants India to believe that he has done well for the economy. “Our political critics focus on the experience of one bad year; it makes for good television but is a distorted picture. The average growth rate in 8 years was 8.2 percent, much better than the previous 8 years,” said the Prime Minister. Averages can deceive. The period of bumper (almost double digit) growth between 2004 and 2008 is a burqa that the Prime Minister can no longer hide behind. Sachin Tendulkar may have scored a hundred hundreds once upon a time but history has not hidden his obvious failures in India’s disastrous overseas Test match performances in the last two years. The problem with legends is that they fail to recognize their own mortality.
Manmohan Singh is an irony. He was a widely admired finance minister. He was a rare, electorally successful prime minister who won a second consecutive five-year term in office with an increased majority for his coalition. Now, he is a widely derided Prime Minister.
In 2014, few people are willing to bet that he will pull off a 2009. Officially, Singh blames coalition politics for the Government’s failures. Off the record, people close to him blame the influence of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
In reality, it is he who is to blame.
Former BJP finance minister Yashwant Sinha called the Prime Minister’s statistical jugglery at ASSOCHAM “less than intellectually honest.” That is hardly new to Manmohan Singh, whose pecuniary honesty is often confused for the intellectual kind. Can the Prime Minister say that he acted with complete intellectual honesty when, during the tenure of UPA 1, he sacked Mani Shankar Aiyar as Union Sports Minister after Aiyar had warned him of the impending CWG scam being orchestrated by Suresh Kalmadi? Can the Prime Minister say that he acted with intellectual honesty when he reappointed A Raja as telecom minister in UPA2, despite the air of scandal that had already enveloped him in UPA1? Can the prime Minister say he acted with intellectual honesty when he signed off the faulty allocation of coal blocks under his watch?
If indeed Singh believes that he acted in all honesty, then why did he lose his nerve when CWG, 2G and Coalgate exploded in UPA 2, paralyzing decision-making in Government, slow-throttling the economy? Manmohan Singh was absolutely decisive when he took those contentious decisions in UPA 1. Contrary to popular perception the Indo-US nuclear deal wasn’t the only instance of the PM getting things done – in UPA 1, 2G allocations and coal allocations actually got done. But when it came to setting the wrongs right in UPA2, Singh chose to keep himself at an “Arms-Length” from decision-making.
It was this abdication of prime ministerial authority and responsibility that prompted every sundry minister, each retired bureaucrat, over enthusiastic judges and eager beaver serving babus to take more than an arm and a leg.
The entire system of governance was torn apart. This did not happen because of coalition politics – UPA 1 was a more contentious coalition than UPA 2. This did not happen because of the Gandhis – they did not interfere with many of Manmohan Singh’s decisions in UPA 1, including the nuclear deal. Had Manmohan Singh stuck his neck out in UPA 2, decision-making would still have happened. Some may have been good, some may have been bad, but at least it would not have stopped, paving the way for delinquent ministers, courts and the CAG to play havoc with policy and the economy.
Singh has never even been honest enough to admit his own failures in public. Manmohan Singh has given honesty a bad name. There is no redemption for him.
He will not even bow out with grace.