No Prime Minister in India’s history has ever expressed helplessness in facing challenges that have come up during his or her tenure. No PM has ever sought refuge in compulsions in dealing with crucial national matters. No PM has admitted to the failings of his or her Cabinet colleagues while trying to absolve himself or herself. No PM has ever tried to correct his image at the expense of his party or his coalition partners. The reason is simple: the buck stops at the PM’s office.
But at last week’s press conference, Manmohan Singh achieved a number of firsts for any Indian PM. While trying to correct his image, Singh did not come out as the king he was during the major part of his tenure. He emerged as a man not in control who, however, instead of accepting his own accountability, blamed his party and colleagues for all wrongs.
What is his helplessness all about even if he considers it is due to the compulsions of coalition politics? If Singh is the PM today, it is only because the Congress is in a coalition government. Had the Congress got a majority, he would not have been the chosen one. But coalition politics is not a licence for corruption or inefficiency. If anyone feels as strongly about the evils of coalitions, there is no compulsion of being associated with such politics or the offices it brings along with it.
When the PM says he is majboor (helpless), is he not letting down the aam aadmi? Is he saying that he is helpless in serving the poor who elected his government and have great expectations? The poor would have wanted prices to be in check, corruption curbed and the influence of corporate giants contained.
Singh must realise that he is occupying a seat that was once occupied by a great visionary and statesman: Jawaharlal Nehru, the man who faced many challenges in his life including riots and a war with China. But he never said he was helpless. The same office was held by humble but strong willed Lal Bahadur Shastri, acclaimed for his strident defence of the country during the 1965 Indo-Pak conflict and someone who gave a call for ‘missing a meal’ every Monday so that food shortage could be tackled. He was never helpless.
Neither was Indira Gandhi, a leader whose mass base was astounding and who came to power after defeating Morarji Desai in the Congress parliamentary party (CPP) elections. She later also led a minority government after the Congress split in 1969 but did not yield to the pressure of the syndicate. She dug her heels to call for ‘Garibi hatao’ while nationalising banks and abolishing privy purses. She was never helpless when she even fought the Janata Party leaders with all chips down.
Even Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh, Chandra Shekhar, PV Narasimha Rao, HD Deve Gowda, IK Gujral and AB Vajpayee never displayed their helplessness. When their time was up, they just went but did not blame political situations, colleagues and circumstances. But perhaps all these leaders were from the political class and were not there after their tenures in other fields had ended. Perhaps they were made of sterner stuff. But they all realised and respected the fact that PMs can never show helplessness. If they were then what would happen to the country? If they lose relevance, they go.
Before going public with his limitations, Singh should have stated his piece before the CPP, which elected him as its leader and subsequently endorsed his elevation to the position of the PM. He must learn from his predecessors and dig in his heels to fight corruption and inefficiency. He must always remember that the buck stops at his doorstep. Between us.