In weak moments during his tumultuous first term in office, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would often tell visitors in whom he chose to confide, that he wasn’t a “natural” leader of his party.
The lament is passé now. Verdict 2009 is as much an endorsement of his leadership as that of his party.
The Congress’s near-double ton at the hustings has delivered a strong PM in Singh though it was the BJP’s L.K. Advani who had set out to seek a mandate on that promise.
In governance terms, the outcome has restored the Prime Minister’s prerogatives, so badly compromised by compulsions of coalition politics. Singh has relative freedom now in setting up his council of ministers, not to speak of the legislative support to push policy initiatives.
The since decimated Left parties earlier used to meddle even in appointments of consultants at the Planning Commission headed by a man they did not trust: Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
An old friend and colleague of Singh, Montek can be finance minister in the new regime that wouldn’t be at the Left’s mercy. That is, if the PM decides and Sonia Gandhi concurs.
“Singh has picked up equity in the party troika without disturbing the hierarchy that starts with Sonia and includes Rahul Gandhi,” remarked a senior leader on condition of anonymity.
He said the advent of a strong PM was matched by the emergence of the Rahul-led second line that has infused life in the moribund party organisation.
“How else can we explain the Congress’s revival in UP,” he asked.
Infosys boss Nandan Nilekani had his own version of the voters’ message to the PM: “No more shackles for you; get on with bold reforms.” He said the new government “will be without (the Left’s) ideological barriers” that crippled policy-making between 2004-09.
The software icon seems to have got it right — but not entirely.
In the initial stages of the UPA rule and more so after the economic downturn, the Congress, learning from the BJP’s India Shining fiasco, had begun insisting that “only half of India is smiling”.
This philosophy drove its popular urban renewal, rural employment, Bharat Nirman and loan waver schemes for the urban poor, farmers and land croppers that paid dividends in big cities and game-changing states like Andhra Pradesh.
In retrospect, a blend of youth, experience, inclusive growth and regard for political rivals — so manifest in Rahul’s praise of Nitish Kumar and Chandrababu Naidu — seem to have clinched the elections for the Congress.
“While others ripped Rahul apart for being politically naïve, many of my young colleagues thought he was only being honest when he complimented Nitish and Naidu,” recalled CNN-IBN’s Rajdeep Sardesai.
A connect the BJP missed and the Congress struck?