Dr Manmohan Singh is set to become the longest-serving Indian prime minister after Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi when he unfurls the tricolour for the seventh time from the ramparts of Red Fort this week. He will also be setting a record of sorts by being the longest-serving PM who has never been a member of the Lok Sabha. He represents Assam in the Upper House.
Fourteen months into his second term as the prime minister, Manmohan Singh needs to be more assertive in order to correct the direction of his government. It is perceived as a loose non-cohesive unit where ministers often take on each other publicly. In coalition politics, political compulsions are such that they do not give a free hand to the head of the government who has to perform with the tools he has been given by various constituents.
In the process, he and the Congress party have been unable to communicate the achievements of his government to the people and also explain its limitations so as to correct several perceptions. It would be an accurate assessment if one were to state that this government has failed to present its side of the story to those who have elected it. On every issue, when the government is on the defensive, it has no mechanism to explain its viewpoint except the Congress spokespersons trying to do the impossible. Ideally, all its constituents should collectively explain the actions of the government. In reality, it is only the Congress which is left to defend on its own.
What is astonishing is that whether it’s about charges of corruption levelled at A. Raja, the charges of apathy against Mamata Banerjee or those of casual behaviour on the part of Sharad Pawar, it is left to the Congress media team to deflect the heat. This is where the government and its constituents need to do some homework and work out an effective mechanism for conveying its point of view. This is a serious failing which needs to be rectified immediately.
The prime minister has to often face the flak since like the Congress high command, he too believes in status quo. Even in the face of scathing criticism, he looks the other way and waits for the crisis to blow over. This must change.
Second, the government, by its actions, has to demonstrate that it has zero tolerance for corruption. The Commonwealth Games irregularities have tarnished the reputations of many top functionaries. These irregularities whether they pertain to the Organising Committee, or the Delhi government and its allied agencies or the central government need to be investigated and the guilty, however mighty, must be brought to book. After the price rise, the Commonwealth Games fiasco is becoming the greatest embarrassment not only for the various agencies involved but also for the common man who will suffer the most.
Singh has entered the history books but he needs to do much more. His clean and upright image had contributed to the return of the UPA government in 2009. But people expect a lot from him. His policies need to be synchronised with the interests of the common man. Even if he has no stake in the future of the party, he has to ensure that his government performs and errant ministers and bureaucrats are taken to task.
Even though he is not a typical politician, he has to dispel the perception that in UPA-II, the bureaucracy or unelected components of his government have more muscle than the politicians. Simultaneously, he has to tick off ambitious colleagues who are fighting for their place in the 2014 scenario and have no qualms about undermining each other. He should correct the erroneous impression that he no longer enjoys the support of the Congress high command. The time has come for him to wield the stick. He has nothing to lose. Between us.