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PM struggles to find form, but stays not out

PM Manmohan Singh’s much-delayed outing was on a difficult wicket and a slow outfield. Vinod Sharma writes.

delhi Updated: Feb 17, 2011 01:19 IST
Vinod Sharma

PM Manmohan Singh’s much-delayed outing was on a difficult wicket and a slow outfield. The barrage of questions he fielded on corruption was bodyline stuff.

Did he contemplate resigning; felt morally responsible for scams tumbling out in torrents; what explains the glacial probe into the CWG sleaze despite promise of early closure; was resistance to a JPC on the 2G rip-off driven by fears of being summoned?

Such yorkers on the popping crease debilitated the PM’s stroke play. He struggled to find form for most parts of the innings that lasted 70 minutes. Spectators weren’t ever on their feet. But he kept intact his wicket till the draw of stumps — to take fresh guard perhaps on a better day, on a better playfield!

To many, the prognosis might come across as charitable. It would be unfair, however, not to give Singh marks for being sensitive and accountable to public sentiment on the twin issue of corruption and inflation. At the fag end, he even over-ruled his media advisor to take additional questions from some of his most trenchant critiques. “It’s regretful that these irregularities have happened. I’m not happy about these developments,” he mildly confessed.

The PM’s rearguard action was an admission that his prolonged silence on popular concerns over graft cost him dear in terms of image and public perception. He had cordoned himself off while the BJP artfully exploited the talking space to evoke support from even its compulsive ideological adversaries — the Left parties.

A quicker response could have saved the PM the frontal attacks he has come under. That his strategy was to be defensive--- and disarmingly non-confrontationist--- was evident from his opening remarks. “Some people may say that we are a lame duck government and I’m a lame duck PM. (But) we take our job very seriously. We are here to govern, to govern effectively,” he said.

“I will not say that I’ve not committed any mistake. But I’m not the kind of culprit I’m being projected as,” he later said. Amid such honest admissions, he offered to face the JPC, if it comes about, restructure the government and reshuffle his team after the Budget session.

Singh was clearly more tactful than pugnacious towards the BJP’s “weak premier’ refrain he so aggressively countered in his first avatar as PM.

He knows perhaps that humility and honesty in accepting mistakes alone can help him recoup the ground he has lost.

The Opposition is bound to attack the PM for attributing effete governance to compulsions of coalition politics. But he wasn’t off the mark while insisting that the choice effectively was between elections every six months and making compromises — in government formation and dealing with ministers from allied parties.

Yet, the PM wasn’t about to desert the post despite such dilution of prime ministerial authority. He was there to stay, to take up unfinished business, quite central to which is bringing to book the wrong-doers, no matter where they exist or what positions they hold.

A brave promise this from a leader besieged!