There was a time when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was seen as someone who could do no wrong; not a run-of-the-mill politician, the economist-prime minister was seen as the author of India’s growth story. And rightly so. His meteoric rise in India’s politics was seen as a triumph of the educated, hard-working Indian middle class.
Now cut to January 3, and the picture is a bit soiled: Manmohan Singh is no more the feted leader but is seen as a captain of a ship who failed to read the headwinds correctly.
So when the government announced that the prime minister will hold a press conference, only his third in the last 10 years, it generated a lot of buzz. Rumours about his retirement had been doing the rounds for some time and Mr Singh took this opportunity to announce that he would hang up his boots after the general elections.
Commenting on the quality of his stint, Mr Singh refuted the charge that he was a weak prime minister and said that history will, hopefully, be more kind to him than the Opposition and contemporary media have been as he did the best he could in the given political circumstances.
The prime minister’s press meet was a typical Manmohan Singh press conference; he stuck to his usual ‘I tried my best, but things did not fall in place’ refrain. His opening statement was more like a pre-election declaration where he outlined his government’s achievements and the problems he has not been able to solve.
His steadfast refusal to take any blame for the scams that happened during his tenure did not surprise many; his arguments on this have been boringly consistent. But the truth is that such denials may not go down well with the electorate; the results of the assembly elections are indication enough that the electorate is angry and will not buy this argument at all.
Mr Singh’s blistering attack on the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi for his role in the 2002 riots was uncharacteristic but shows that the Congress will continue to use this stick as its main weapon against the BJP leader in the days to come.
The prime minister’s retirement announcement is timely and it is good that it came from the man himself ahead of the All India Congress Committee meeting on January 17.
It clears the way for Rahul Gandhi and gives the young leader, if he is now named the party’s prime ministerial candidate, crucial four months to chart a war plan. The announcement also means that the Congress can now resist the temptation to battle the BJP and Modi through a proxy, AAP.