Dear Manmohanji, your silence means an admission of guilt
Now that Manmohan Singh is no longer the PM, he needs to show transparency and forthrightness in his reaction to all that is being said about him.
Silence is golden, but not always. When it drags on, it threatens to devour the person.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, who was often ridiculed as Man “maunmohan” Singh for not using his voice box despite the fussilade of charges against him with regard to high ticket corruption in his government, now needs to break his silence.
But he has so far stayed true to form, his mouth firmly shut no matter what the provocation. The latest assault has come from former Comptroller and Auditor General of India Vinod Rai who, in an interview with Times Now, indicted the former prime minister by alleging that Singh was fully aware of the 2G and the coal block allocation scams in his government, but had turned a blind eye to it, choosing to do nothing when he could have changed the course of things by putting his foot down.
There is no word from Singh to the disclosures that bust his claim of not knowing the sordid saga that was enacted in his government. But as things stand today, Singh finds himself pushed into a corner where speaking out would be as damaging as not speaking -- both to him and whatever is left of his image, as well as to the Congress and party chief Sonia Gandhi, without whose direct or indirect knowledge he could not have proceeded or closed his eyes to whatever was happening in his government.
Why Singh may not speak
Curiously, the entire phalanx of the Congress party has sprung up, not so much to defend the former prime minister but to rubbish Rai’s statements. This is due to the unstated attempt to prevent the fires that are closing in on the former prime minister from spreading to 10 Janpath -- a synonym for Sonia -- who too could not but have been aware of what was happening in the corridors of power. The first and preeminent article in the Congressman’s behaviour is to protect the fountainhead in the party--in this case, Sonia—because on its existence depends their own survival.
This is perhaps one of the three major reasons why Singh may continue with his Sphinx-like silence. Cynics would interpret this as his way of saying `thank you’ to the Congress president for making him the prime minister for 10 years. Never mind the fact that he stepped into South Bloc in 2004 as an icon of the middle classes, and went out in 2014 as a failed leader, his personal integrity severely compromised by his failure to prevent corruption that bled the exchequer and debilitated the government. The Congress, like Sonia, had to pay a heavy political price for failing to intervene.
The second reason is that anything he says now would be compared with his initial remarks on the scams in Parliament where he had rebutted the CAG’s findings. With the coal ministry directly under his charge for some time, Singh had particularly rubbished the CAG report on coalgate charging the oversight body of proceeding on flawed premises, selective reading of opinions given by the Department of Legal Affairs and ignoring practical realities of policy implementation. He also faulted the methodology used to estimate the ‘loss’ of revenue to the exchequer.
It has been a similar story with regard to 2G, with Singh flip-flopping on it on whether or how much he knew about the way in which the controversial allocations were made. He offered to appear before the Public Accounts Committee to place the facts of the case before the panel, but when the Joint Parliamentary Committee probing the matter demanded his appearance, he rejected it.
The third reason for why he may not break his silence is the one leaders usually offer when confronted with allegedly harsh truths: that they will come out with their own version of events. In short, it’s a case of a book for a book. Remember Sonia’s retort of writing her own book to bring out the real facts as a counter to Natwar Singh’s revelations in his autobiography 'One Life is Not Enough'?
Singh is likely to fall back on a similar one liner if pushed to respond.
After all, he entombed himself into a sepulchral silence when the first of an impending torrent of tomes began that either put him in the dock or showed him in poor light -- there’s Sanjaya Baru’s ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’, former Coal Secretary PC Parakh’s ‘Crusader or Conspirator’, and now it’s Rai’s damaging interview ahead of the release of his book `Not Just an Accountant’.
Why Singh must speak out
But for every reason on why Singh may not want to break his silence there are equally compelling reasons why he should, and must.
For one, he will have to fight this battle alone.
Barring a couple of exceptions like PC Chacko, no one in the party has come out in his defence following Rai’s revelations.
While indicting the former prime minister, Rai had also accused Congress leaders including Sanjay Nirupam, Sandip Dikshit and former Law minister Ashwani Kumar, of putting pressure on him to somehow keep his name out of the report, which was already in the public domain.
One by one, these leaders have debunked the charge they had wanted the report laundered. Nirupam even hinted that he could sue Rai for it -- a threat that if followed on would inevitably drag not just Singh but other bigwigs into the legal tangle, something which Sonia may not want considering that she, Rahul and some of her senior aides are already trying to fight their way out of the National Herald case.
Dikshit too denied any role, claiming that there was no time machine to turn back the clock when the report was already in circulation. Spokesman Abhishek Singhvi rubbished Rai’s charges as a "marketing gimmick" for his book much like the party had done with Natwar Singh’s.
But the biggest setback to Singh was Kamal Nath’s endorsement of Rai’s disclosure that as Commerce minister he had flagged the concerns over 2G with the prime minister. But then Kamal Nath couldn’t have said anything different since the letter he wrote to Singh was in the public domain. Nath has been quoted saying: "I wrote to the PM I’m hearing all sorts of things are going on in 2G allocation. The PM chose to do nothing. I do feel if he had intervened, things would have been different."
Two, silence means an admission of guilt. Seen to be indicted, Singh, as a former prime minister, owes it to the nation to speak up, whether or not what he says carries conviction or not with the people. Time and again, while speaking either on the telecom scam or the coal scandal, he spoke on how he wanted transparency built into the allocation process. He may have failed in doing that in government, while allowing speculation to fester that he was hampered by coalition politics and the diktats of 10 Janpath. But now that he is no longer prime minister, he needs to show that transparency and forthrightness in his reaction to all that is being said about him. It is perhaps his last chance to make himself heard.
The third, and perhaps, the most important reason on why Singh needs to speak out is linked to the press conference he held earlier this year and the third in his 10 years as Prime Minister. Reacting to a question, he had expressed the hope that history would be kinder to him than the contemporary media or for that matter the opposition parties in Parliament have been. It would now seem that even history may not extend him that favour unless he steps out of the wall of silence he has built around himself.
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