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Manmohan trips on Mandal

HT-C fore 2nd anniversary survey finds his ratings down; voters want fresh faces in ministry, writes Aditya Sinha.

india Updated: May 21, 2006 02:43 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, say his aides, is dissatisfied — even frustrated — with his government’s performance as the UPA marks two years in office on Monday. And the voters are growing disenchanted with him, according to an HT survey conducted in six metros by C-fore last week.

Respondents gave the PM a 5.86 out of 10 on his performance. Compare that to a similar HT survey conducted a year back, when he was given 6.46; that’s about a ten per cent drop in approval. The reason? Broadly, a perception of general inaction. Specifically, it seems that the quota stir has tarnished Manmohan Singh’s image in the metros.

The move by HRD Minister Arjun Singh (who scored lower than the PM) to introduce reservations in educational institutions has frustrated the PM as well. Aides say that the PM’s desire for a legacy that reinforces the watershed economic reforms he introduced as finance minister in 1991, keeps getting thwarted by “political tsunamis and earthquakes”. For instance, his fiat last week to the Planning Commission, to address the problem of farmers’ suicides, has been overshadowed by the medicos stir.

Not that the protests are going to derail reservations. “We didn’t allow Medha Patkar to hold us to ransom, we won’t allow the students either,” says a PMO official. For a PM who’s been synonymous with meritocracy, however, this will only further dent his image.

And while the PM may lay emphasis on building foreign relations (experts see the US N-deal as his major achievement) that may not impress the voters too much — even in the metros. In reply to what the priority for the UPA’s 3rd year should be, foreign relations came last; creating jobs was number one.

Regarding the major players in his team, Finance Minister Chidambaram scored the highest. Running neck-and-neck with him was Railways Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav.

An aide says that two years ago, the PM had urged both Lalu and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar to do something substantial with their portfolios; it is the PMO's assessment that while Lalu has done wonders, Pawar has been ore busy with cricket.

Aides harp on the PM's frustration that India is at a juncture where big things can happen but his government is not exploiting the opportunities. He let some of that frustration show in February, while addressing retired foreign service officers: he bemoaned the lack of strategic thinking in the country.

Perhaps he ought to look at fresh blood. The people seem to think so; 27 per cent wanted an immediate induction of youngsters into his ministry, while another 19 per cent said it should happen in the next six months. Less than a quarter wanted to wait till after the next parliamentary elections.