I can’t stand it any more. Watching the Prime Minister is nobody’s — not even the Congress President’s — idea of a preferred pastime. But of late, I’ve been drawn to the ghostly image of Manmohan Singh like a piece of kebab to a skewer. By which I mean something rather apocalyptic and sad, not something appetising. When he explained to the nation last week why his government had to raise oil prices, I could have sworn that I heard strains of violins in the background and a man in a high but distant voice crying out, ‘Ye dunia agar mil bhee jaye to kya hai?’ Thankfully, it turned out to be someone next door playing Havana Gila in the style of CPI leader D. Raja.
But looking at Manmohan speak in his trademark dignified manner, patiently but desperately telling us that what has been done had to be done, and if it wasn’t done, we would all be undone, I was reminded of my accounts teacher, who in a desperate bid to make me pass my exam (I had got four out of 100 in the previous term) had implored not to treat accountancy lightly. Like the Left parties, my father didn’t ever care much for things that involve ledgers and money, so my teacher failed in his task.
The blue-turbaned face with its eyes following the tele-prompter on Wednesday evening also reminded me of the Persian messenger in the film based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel, 300 — you know, the one which has those great lines, ‘I. Am. Spartaaa!’ Maybe Manmohan isn’t as tall, swarthy and well-built as the messenger who comes to Spartan King Leonidas to deliver the bad news that if the king doesn’t submit to the authority of the Persian King, his kingdom will be destroyed. But Manmohan’s ‘explanation’ to the nation was as potent, as gentlemanly as the Persian messenger’s had been in the movie. It’s another matter that I certainly hope that the good doctor doesn’t meet the same fate as the harbinger of not-so-good news in 300. The Persian messenger is kicked into a well by an enraged Leonidas.
Which makes me come to the approaching hour when the people of India will be utilising their right to react to such ‘shape up or ship out’ messages — the Spartan well being substituted by an electronic voting machine. Will there be any one out there like me who will hear the violins each time he or she encounters Manmohan Singh and think with a sigh the length of a psephologist’s print-out, “He is right. But I wish he could push his case just a bit more forcefully”? Will Manmohan Singh get the pity vote? The problem is that I don’t think he’s managed to convince his own boss that what he wants to do for the nation — whether it be more oil price hikes or operationalising the India-US nuclear deal — is right. And that sort of thing happens, of course, if you’re not the boss.
So my bets are that Manmohan Singh, after a few more televised or untelevised appeals to the nation over the next few months, will be kicked into the ‘Spartan well’ — not so much in full view by his own boss and party men but by the giant foot called the ‘I don’t like unpalatable truths’ electorate. They will, of course, do the needful lovingly, with Guru Dutt-like sadness, unhappy to see a good man, a dignified gent becoming smaller as he travels down the chute. All the while, the good doctor’s boss and colleagues will insist that he’s The Man; that He. Is. Spartaaa! But to rescue him from the double entrendres of coalition politics, from the ‘good cop-bad cop’ routine that he plays so badly, I won’t hesitate to end Manmohan’s woes. I have a feeling neither will many others.
As for when that moment of reckoning will come, there are three ways of knowing: one, ply Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami with pina coladas — ‘Have another pineapple juice, sir’ — and get the date of the Big Day out of him; two, sidle up to Sachin Tendulkar and ask him in between pleasantries what he might have heard in during his recent trip to Amethi; three, catch Manmohan Singh on tellly and gauge how uncomfortable he is telling the nation another truth that his boss and the nation don’t want to hear. Poor thing.