Daily Archives: September 6, 2012
Courtesy: Rediff News September 06. 2012
By Seema Mustafa
The Washington Post in its story ‘India’s ‘silent’ prime minister becomes a tragic figure’ with the headline saying it all, is really a repetition of what has been appearing in sections of the Indian media for years now. There is little new in the report that has sent ripples of consternation down the government and the Congress party hierarchy, except for the fact that the American media has finally decided to end the honeymoon with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [ Images ] in recognition of the fact that his honeymoon with the Indian middle class ended a long time ago.
Dr Singh does cut a sorry figure as he sits motionless, and expressionless, through the Parliament sessions and has more and more started appearing as a leader who has given up, or one should say given in. Nothing seems to move him, and the post of the prime minister has, in the process, been reduced to levels never seen before.
He does not meet people any more, he barely travels within India [ Images ], and seems unaware that he is sitting on top of one of the most corrupt governments this country has ever seen. Scam after scam rolls by without the weak doctor blinking an eyelid, as the government remains unaccountable and the institutions of democracy shake under the pressure.
The government’s response to the newspaper report is again a case of over-reaction, as surely it cannot be anyone’s case here that the media cannot write freely and independently. Particularly the world media that follows its own laws, and clearly perceives the prime minister to be far from functioning. The fuss, and the strong reactions seeking an apology from the Washington Post, arises from several factors, and unfortunately, none of them complimentary to the UPA government.
One, the report that is really a repetition of all the Indian media has said several times before hurts only because it is from theWashington Post. And this government cares more about the opinion there, than the opinion here as has been demonstrated over and over again by Dr Singh and his cabinet cronies before, and since, the India US civilian nuclear energy agreement. In short, it hurts and the government is finding it difficult to ignore it as it does the Indian media.
Two, the Post report also reflects the inability of this government and the ruling party to introspect. Instead of taking the criticism on board, and taking measures to revive the sagging image of the prime minister, the government and the Congress party have emerged fists flying in the belief that this will work in silencing the ‘opposition.’
It is not as the Washington Post, unlike the big media here, might not be as easily retract what it has reported as it has little to lose. And for every one report there will be several such reports as these cats, when out of the bag, have a tendency to multiply with increasing rapidity.
“ but as the image of the scrupulously honourable, humble and intellectual technocrat has slowly given way to a completely different one: a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government,” read the Washington Post report, brutal and frank in its assessment.
What it does not add is that the bureaucrat seems to have given up, as Dr Singh gives a pretty good demonstration of the civil servant who, pulled in all directions, is resigned to being a dummy. He does not have the politician’s courage to strike out for whatever he believes in, and seems to have resigned himself to servility on the one front, and abject inertia on the other.
In the process he has become the Washington Post headline, silent and tragic, more so perhaps for those who had expected great things from him at one point in time.
Those who have worked closely with Dr Singh when he was just a bureaucrat decades ago seem to have a better judgment of his personality and character. And see him as a bureaucrat who has managed to work the system to his advantage. His apparent humility has made him a favourite of the politician who are not threatened by his presence, and impressed by his knowledge. Unfortunately these qualities do not work for a prime minister who is required, and expected, to lead from the front and steer the complicated ship to some level of governance.
It is true that his cabinet colleagues are more loyal and responsive to their respective party presidents than to him. But surely it was for Dr Singh to crack the whip. He failed to do so, and now cannot really sit back and cry about the fact that no one listens to him. If that is true, as it appears to be, the prime minister should resign with the admission that he is not fit for the job assigned to him. He and his party must realise that there cannot be a government of any merit, without a prime minister to guide it. And a leader who believes in sitting it out, under a party that feels less threatened if he does exactly that, is not going to be able to manage this complex country, in or outside Parliament.
Governance is not about clever tricks, and the Manish Tiwari kind of rhetoric. These cannot replace decisions and action, but unfortunately this is all that seems to be happening. The flurry of activity over the Washington Post report is precisely this, a great deal of noise from empty vessels who are scared of introspection, and hence a recognition of the hollowness within. Thus, it is always better to beat the messenger in the hope that his news dies with him. It does not work, but then the Congress party and its government is too self absorbed to realise this.
Happy Teacher’s Day
Truth is out. Manmohan Singh, i.e., MMS is a spineless politician, covering up for his corrupt ministers and serving as a hand-maiden of Madam Supremo. Bharatiya media in the pay of Congress would not dare to write this, so here is an American journalist who tells it all. Do not forget to read PMO’s whining letter to Washington Post and a rejoinder by the newspaper.
India’s ‘silent’ prime minister becomes a tragic figure
Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images – Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s second term in office has been damaged by corruption scandals and policy paralysis.
By Simon Denyer, Published: September 4
NEW DELHI — India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh helped set his country on the path to modernity, prosperity and power, but critics say the shy, soft-spoken 79-year-old is in danger of going down in history as a failure.
The architect of India’s economic reforms, Singh was a major force behind his country’s rapprochement with the United States and is a respected figure on the world stage. President Obama’s aides used to boast of his tremendous rapport and friendship with Singh.
But the image of the scrupulously honorable, humble and intellectual technocrat has slowly given way to a completely different one: a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.
Every day for the past two weeks, India’s Parliament has been adjourned as the opposition bays for Singh’s resignation over allegations of waste and corruption in the allocation of coal-mining concessions.
The story of Singh’s dramatic fall from grace in his second term in office and the slow but steady tarnishing of his reputation has played out in parallel with his country’s decline on his watch. As India’s economy has slowed and as itsreputation for rampant corruption has reasserted itself, the idea that the country was on an inexorable road to becoming a global power has increasingly come into question.
“More and more, he has become a tragic figure in our history,” said political historian Ramachandra Guha, describing a man fatally handicapped by his “timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty.”
The irony is that Singh’s greatest selling points — his incorruptibility and economic experience — are the mirror image of his government’s greatest failings.
Under Singh, economic reforms have stalled, growth has slowed sharply and therupee has collapsed. But just as damaging to his reputation is the accusation that he looked the other way and remained silent as his cabinet colleagues filled their own pockets.
In the process, he transformed himself from an object of respect to one of ridicule and endured the worst period in his life, said Sanjaya Baru, Singh’s media adviser during his first term.
Attendees at meetings and conferences were jokingly urged to put their phones into “Manmohan Singh mode,” while one joke cited a dentist urging the seated prime minister, “At least in my clinic, please open your mouth.”
Singh finally did open his mouth last week, to rebut criticism from the government auditor that the national treasury had been cheated of billions of dollars after coal-mining concessions were granted to private companies for a pittance — including during a five-year period when Singh doubled as coal minister.
Singh denied that there was “any impropriety,” but he was drowned out by catcalls when he attempted to address Parliament on the issue. His brief statement to the media afterward appeared to do little to change the impression of a man whose aloofness from the rough-and-tumble of Indian politics has been transformed from an asset into a liability.
“It has been my general practice not to respond to motivated criticism directed personally at me,” he said. “My general attitude has been, ‘My silence is better than a thousand answers; it keeps intact the honor of innumerable questions.’ ”
Singh probably will survive calls for his resignation, but the scandal represents a new low in a reputation that has been sinking for more than a year.
‘I have to do my duty’
Singh was born in 1932 into a small-time trader’s family in a village in what is now Pakistan, walking miles to school every day and studying by the light of a kerosene lamp. The family moved to India shortly before partition of the subcontinent in 1947, and Singh pleaded with his father to be allowed to continue with his studies rather than join the dry-fruit trade.
A series of scholarships allowed Singh to continue those studies first at Cambridge and then at Oxford, where he completed a PhD. Marriage was arranged with Gursharan Kaur in 1958; they have three daughters.
A successful career in the bureaucracy followed, but it was in 1991 that Singh was thrust into the spotlight as finance minister amid a financial crisis.
With little choice, Singh introduced a series of policies that freed the Indian economy from suffocating state control and unleashed the dynamism of its private sector.
More than a decade later, in 2004, Singh again found himself on center stage, becoming in his own words an “accidental prime minister.”
The Congress party led by Italian-born Sonia Gandhi had surprised many people by winning national elections that year, but she sprang an even bigger surprise by renouncing the top job and handing it to Singh.
In him she saw not only the perfect figurehead for her government but also a man of unquestioning loyalty, party insiders say, someone she could both trust and control.
“I’m a small person put in this big chair,” Singh told broadcaster Charlie Rose in 2006. “I have to do my duty, whatever task is allotted of me.”
From the start, it was clear that Sonia Gandhi held the real reins of power. The Gandhi family has ruled India for most of its post-
independence history and enjoys an almost cultlike status within the Congress party. Sonia’s word was destined to remain law.
But Singh made his mark during his first term in office, standing up to opposition from his coalition partners and from within his own party to push through a civil nuclear cooperation deal with the United States in 2008, a landmark agreement that ended India’s nuclear isolation after its weapons tests in 1974 and 1998.
It was a moment that almost brought his government down, an issue over which he offered to resign. While no electricity has yet flowed from that pact, it marked a major step forward in India’s relations with the United States.
The Congress-led coalition went on to win a second term in 2009, in what many people saw as a mandate for Singh.
The 2009 election “was a victory for him, but he did not step up to claim it — maybe because he is too academic, maybe because he is too old,” said Tushar Poddar, managing director at Goldman Sachs in Mumbai. “That lack of leadership, that lack of boldness, lack of will — that really shocked us. That really shocked foreign investors.”
‘He suffers from doubts’
In a series of largely off-the-
record conversations, friends and colleagues painted a picture of a man who felt undermined by his own party and who sank into depression and self-pity.
His one attempt in 1999 to run for a parliamentary seat from a supposedly safe district in the capital, New Delhi, had ended in ignominious defeat. His failure to contest a parliamentary seat in 2009, making him the only Indian prime minister not to have done so, further undermined both his confidence, his friends and colleagues say, and his standing in the eyes of the party.
Congress, insiders say, never accepted that the 2009 election was a mandate for Singh and jealously resented the idea that he could be seen to be anywhere near as important as a Gandhi. Rahul, Sonia’s son, was being groomed to take over from Singh, and the prime minister needed to be cut down to size.
He soon was openly criticized by his own party over attempts to continue a peace process with Pakistan despite the 2008 attack on Mumbai by Pakistani militants.
Singh became even more quiet at his own cabinet meetings, to the point of not speaking up for the sort of economic changes many thought he ought to be championing.
“His gut instincts are very good, but sometimes he suffers from doubts about the political feasibility, about getting things done,” said Jagdish N. Bhagwati, a Columbia University professor who has been friends with Singh since their Cambridge days.
Singh will go down in history as India’s first Sikh prime minister and the country’s third-longest-serving premier, but also as someone who did not know when to retire, Guha said.
“He is obviously tired, listless, without energy,” he said. “At his time of life, it is not as though he is going to get a new burst of energy. Things are horribly out of control and can only get worse for him, for his party and for his government.”
Now See PMO’s whining and apt reply by Washington Post’s Journalist:
Indian prime minister’s office responds to Washington Post’s profile on Manmohan Singh
The office of India’s prime minister objected to The Washington Post’s front-page article, published Sept. 5, 2012, on Manmohan Singh’s evolution as a leader.
The following is a letter from the Prime Minister’s office:
We do not complain about criticism of the government which is a journalist’s right. But I am writing this letter for pointing out unethical and unprofessional conduct at your part.
I would like to put on record my complaint about your article which was published today on many counts:
— Despite all lines of conversations open, you never got in touch with us for our side of the story though you regularly talk to me about information from the PMO. This story thus becomes totally one sided.
— You have been telling the media here in India that your request for an interview was declined though the mail below says clearly that the interview was declined “till the Monsoon Session” of the Parliament which gets over in two days.
— When I rang you up to point this out, you said sorry twice though you tell the media here that you never apologised.
— Your website where we could have posted a reply is still not working, 11 hours after you said sorry the third time for its inaccessibility.
— The former Media Adviser to the PM Dr Sanjaya Baru has complained that you “rehashed and used” an 8 month old quote from an Indian Magazine.
We expected better from the correspondent of the Washington Post for fair and unbiased reporting.
Without going into your one sided assessment of the Prime Minister’s performance, as comment is free in journalism, I hope you will carry this communication in full in your paper and your website so your readers can judge for themselves what is the truth.
Communications Adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office
New Delhi – India
Below is a response to the letter from Simon Denyer, author of the article and our India bureau chief:
— I requested an interview with the PM on three occasions, and also with T.K.A Nair, Advisor to the Prime Minister, and with Pulok Chatterji, Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office. Those requests were either ignored or declined.
— When I made my final request for an interview with the PM in July, I was told on July 30 “The PM has declined all interview requests till the Monsoon session is over.” At that stage the current session of parliament (known as the Monsoon session) of parliament had not even begun. There was no mention of the possibility of an interview afterwards. In any case my story touches on the fact that parliament has been adjourned every day throughout the current session by opposition calls for the PM to resign, which is a story I felt should be told, interview or not.
Indeed, we remain extremely interested in speaking to the prime minister.
— My apology was for the fact that the website was down and the PM’s office could not post a reply directly. As soon as the problem was fixed, I informed them. I stand by the story.
— I spoke to Dr Baru personally on the telephone during the reporting for the story. He confirmed that these sentiments were accurate.