How being 'bechara' works well for Manmohan's politics

The Bechara Bhala Admi or the victim syndrome has traditionally helped people without overt aggressive instincts. Manmohan Singh is acutely aware of that and whenever he is faced with a crisis and under attack from the Opposition, particularly the BJP, he has used this as a perfect weapon of defence. And when he adds a little bit of retaliatory aggression even while playing the victim, it makes big news and unleashes a debate.

Manmohan may not have the political powers that a prime minister is expected wield but over the years he has turned out a better politician than an economist. The politician in Manmohan Singh was its best when he was replying to the thanks giving motion to the President’s address on Wednesday. While he used the bechara card as an armoured shield by saying that at the BJP National Council meeting over the weekend "choicest abuses" were hurled against him, he also played the aggressor.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. PTI

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. PTI

In cricketing terms, a "night watchman" can’t be an abuse. Deemak (termites) ki tarah andar se kha jana is a popular idiom in Hindi language. It is used in English too. But then these became "choicest abuses" because it came from the politician who the Congress loves to hate with great passion. Narendra Modi had termed Manmohan a 'night watchman' and used the termite expression for the Congress party.

Manmohan couldn’t have ignored Modi’s barbs for other reasons also. The next sentence that Modi uttered in his hard-hitting speech was actually sympathetic to him, highlighting his bechara status and targeting Congress president Sonia Gandhi. It said "the family" and the loyalists appointed an internationally acclaimed economist as prime minister and put him under watch through the National Advisory Council (NAC) - a team of rootless five-star wonders.

It was this part that had to be replied to. The prime minister did not refer to what Modi said, but the reference to it was obvious in his rebuttal. Not responding to it would have been politically unwise. By reciting a Hindi couplet: "Hum ko hai unse wafa ki umeed jo jante hi nahi ki wafa kya hai," Singh meant to assert that though the BJP claimed to be the champion of the Indian culture, it was actually led by a bunch of un-cultured leaders. Though Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj tried to counter the couplet by another couplet with élan she did not find any worthwhile mention since she is known to be a good orator.

Thus the three lines from Manmohan which could have been dismissed as routine if it had come from any other politician, made big news. He even went ahead to taunt the BJP patriarch and his 2009 prime ministerial challenger in 2009: "The Shining India campaign in 2004 led to disastrous results for the BJP. In 2009, they fielded the Iron Man Advaniji against the lamb that Manmohan Singh is, and we all know as to what was the result."

"I am convinced that if the people of India were to look at our record in these nine or ten years, they would repeat what they did in 2004 and 2009," he added. In 2004, it was BJP’s arrogance and misplaced optimism that cost it power but the 2009 situation was different. There could be no doubt that Manmohan Singh’s image contributed a lot to the 2009 mandate for the Congress. In UPA I, he was perceived to be a bechara, a nice helpless gentleman economist who was guided by circumstances to take up the mantle of a politician.

The perception was that the Left Front, on the crutches of which the UPA I had survived the first four years, was not letting Manmohan unveil his economic agenda to take the country to a higher growth trajectory and deliver the goods for the average Indian.

However, what worked in 2009 may not work in 2014. The UPA II is high on corruption and inflation. No one has a clue whether Manmohan would be in the reckoning for the third term. Little wonder his claiming credit for the so called BIMARU states (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) doing better during his reign went unchallenged. With the exception of Rajathan all other states are ruled by the BJP and other non-Congress parties. Even during the first part of his reign Rajathan was ruled by the BJP and the second half by the Congress.