Was it really Manmohan Singh who made that speech to the nation last Friday? True, he looked like Manmohan, he sounded like him, but the fighting words he spoke weren't in the least bit like him. Less than a month ago, he was telling us it was better to remain silent. And now he suddenly wants to go down fighting, he starts taking tough decisions, tells Mamata Banerjee to go take a hike and vigorously defends his actions. When was the last time you heard Manmohan Singh do such things? How on earth did he screw up the courage?
I was pondering these weighty questions when I remembered one of my editors. He was a brilliant chap who had one unfortunate flaw - he couldn't take unpleasant decisions. One afternoon, he came up to me and said in an urgent whisper, "Let's go the Press Club. I need to have a few drinks immediately." "At three in the afternoon?" I asked, shocked - I firmly believe you shouldn't drink between 2.30 and 3.30 pm. "I need to have at least six pegs," said the editor unashamedly, adding that he had to fire somebody. The booze gave him the confidence, the Dutch courage, to make decisions. I learnt a lot from him, adopting his decision-making technique enthusiastically.
So naturally, my first reaction to Manmohan's outlandish burst of activity was that he had put away a few down the hatch. But a bureaucrat to whom I put this thesis was outraged. He pointed out that the prime minister was, firstly, a teetotaller. "And secondly," he added, "unlike you media folks, in the government we don't need to be sozzled to make decisions." I couldn't believe my ears. Really odd, these government guys, no wonder so many of their decisions turn out badly.
Anyway, some in the Opposition are demanding a thorough investigation into whether this brand new persona is really Manmohan Singh. "This was a guy suffering from policy paralysis. How come he had the guts to kick out Mamata?" queried a BJP supporter, looking wistfully at a picture of Yeddyurappa. "We had joined the UPA on the understanding that no decisions would be taken," complained a Trinamool Congress politician bitterly. He suspected a Maoist might be masquerading as the prime minister. Even Congressmen have been flabbergasted. "Is it really true, as Manmohan said in his speech, that money doesn't grow on trees?" asked a puzzled politico while handing out free laptops, free TVs and free bicycles.
Many people, however, believe the real Manmohan, the economic reform guru, is back. "We think the strain on his brain from all those reforms sent Manmohan into a long sleep in the mid-nineties and he woke up only a few days back", said a fan, drawing a parallel with Rip Van Winkle. Other theories involve alien abduction or an extended vacation in the south Pacific spent learning the hula hula. They speculate that his place was taken by either a turbaned robot, or a turbaned shape-shifting alien or a disguised Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
There continues to be strong opposition to Big Bang reforms and the government is still not out of the woods. "What does Manmohan have to do with the Big Bang? Who does he think he is, the Higgs boson?" asked an opposition boss mystifyingly. As an opera buff explained, 'It ain't over till the fat lady sings.' I'm keeping a close watch on Jayalalithaa, waiting eagerly for her to burst into song.
Views expressed by the author are personal