Calm and stoic but not assertive enough as fires raged around him is the verdict about the 10-year stint in Parliament of Dr Manmohan Singh who on Friday marked the last day in the House as Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks on the last day of the winter session of the 15th Lok Sabha in New Delhi. (PTI photo)
Singh will remain a Rajya Sabha member but will not return as the head of the government after the elections in summer.
As per his website, the PM made 70 formal speeches and interventions in Parliament during the past 10 years. In the first term, he was setting the agenda, with a greater focus on foreign policy.
In the second, he was primarily in domestic crisis-management mode, responding to issues like missing CBI files, coal-blocks allocation, economic situation, safety of citizens from the northeast, Lokpal and corruption.
Gopal Krishna Gandhi, a scholar and grandson of the Mahatma, told HT, "Calm as a glacier in the midst of raging storms, Dr Singh set an example in equanimity. But stoicism is incomplete without the fire or third eye which incinerates wrong-doing in all ranks, including his own party's, no less than the opposition."
A former aide, on the condition of anonymity, said Singh commanded respect, even from the opposition, when he spoke.
"But he could have been pro-active. He was not a great parliamentarian or lifelong politician who enjoyed the cut and thrust of parliamentary exchanges. But within those constraints, whenever he applied his mind, he was effective."
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Senior PMO officials are quick to defend Singh's record.
"We passed a total of 174 legislations including major legislations in the 15th Lok Sabha. The opposition disrupted proceedings repeatedly," an official said.
While hailing the passage of the RTI, Gopal Gandhi said he regretted Grievance Redressal and Whistleblowers' Protection Bill could not be passed and the promise of a comprehensive and universal pension couldn't be fulfilled.
When asked if the PM could have played a more pro-active role, the senior PMO official referred to Singh's statement "when there was a need, I spoke, and will continue to do in the future" at a press interaction on January 3.
He said their slogan is kam bola, kaam bola --- spoke less, work spoke. The official also rejected comparisons with Jawaharlal Nehru, who used the Parliament as his stage to shape the national discourse. "We can't compare with any other PM as Nehru's records are not available."
One key reason that restricted the PM's role, according to many observers, is he was not an elected Lok Sabha MP, and thus not the leader of the House of the People. The former aide cited above agreed.
"The Lok Sabha rarely respects someone not elected to the Lok Sabha. He was burdened by the fact that he did not have the mandate to lord over Parliament like Nehru, or Vajpayee, or even PV Narasimha Rao. This was a lacuna," he said.
But Dr Singh's current advisors reject the claim. "Prime ministers speak in both houses whenever needed."
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