The nation and its uncle are still reeling from the startling revelation made by Time magazine. It turns out that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is an “underachiever”. Well, I’ll be doubledouched!
As the content of this bold, analytical piece disclosing facts and features about Singh that we could never have guessed becomes known to more Indians, suddenly the life of the UPA looks extremely precarious. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Manmohan-led government has already fallen by the time you read this.
I haven’t yet managed to read the story. Indian netizens, who are usually busy at this time of the century clogging the internet by voting Amitabh Bachchan as the Greatest Star of Stage or Screen of the Millennium, have managed to crash the Time website. As for the print edition, all copies were sold out within two hours of the Indian media’s coverage of the Time cover story. But while I haven’t read the article, I have followed what the media have been carrying about the article and the trail of destruction that the shocking exposé has left in its wake.
The BJP, using Time as its Koran, has stated that the “legacy” mentioned in the article of “suffering India, insecure India and crying India” should be shared by Congress president Sonia Gandhi. JD(U) president Sharad Yadav, however, smells a conspiracy. “It is a pressure tactic to push FDI in retail,” he said, adding that the article’s primary purpose was to oust anti-FDI Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee from the UPA. He also mentioned that he attached no importance to Time’s description of Singh as an “underachiever”, but at the same time thought it was time for him, home minister P Chidambaram, and Planning Commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia to “introspect” (read: say ‘hmmm’ in unison). What is remarkable is the contentious article’s ability to have got a well-past sell-by-date politician such as Yadav to suddenly talk so much.
Congress leaders, traditional subscribers to Time, have reminded critics that the magazine had once carried a story critical of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. A prime-time TV debate on whether the headline of that article, ‘Asleep at the Wheel’, was more damning than ‘The Underachiever’ was left tantalisingly unresolved as the anchor had “completely run out of time”.
But it’s ordinary Indians who have been left reeling by Time’s shocking revelations, that have, in turn, led to questions being raised about the sources of this exclusive story already dubbed as ‘Underachievergate’. Major General Raj Mehta (“I am an ex-army officer, not one bit interested in politics” he says, as if not being interested in politics is a wonderful thing) wrote last week, “I see the USA as annoyed with India in an election year at having missed [out] on huge business in arms and nuclear reactor supply. USA and Europe are in serious recession. The US has backed a wrong horse in Pakistan and its Af-Pak policy is in shambles. Iran is beyond their ken and Israel demands action that the US isn’t really keen on — the military option... China is causing grave unhappiness to the US policy think tanks and is challenging US suzerainty... It is difficult to believe that a major article like this could have happened without tacit US approval,” he writes, unsuspectful of whose tacit approval I’m writing this column with.
Luckily, the Time story hasn’t coloured world opinion on India or on our PM. Most of the world hasn’t read it and has no plan to read it. The story is on the Time cover only in the magazine’s Asia edition. The same issue’s US edition has American chief justice John Roberts on its cover; the Europe, Middle East and Africa as well as South Pacific editions have German chancellor Angela Merkel on their covers.
So the only damage done is in India. It’s the same Time-tested strategy of making local readers believe that the story they are reading is being read the world over. So when Tendulkar was put on the Asia edition cover of Time, we loved the article even more as we believed that non-NRI readers in New York were being finally forced to confront the Indian sporting genius.
But the UPA should be quietly delighted that so many literate patriots are viewing this story as an attack on our PM and our country. As an anti-Congress friend of mine fumed, “It’s offensive,” she said, before proceeding to read out the intro of the piece on the Time cover, “India needs a robot. Is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh up to the job?” I didn’t bother telling her that it was ‘reboot’, not ‘robot’, in the intro.
I was too perturbed after having heard the unconfirmed news that Newsweek is running a story (in all its editions!) next week with the headline ‘The Untouchable’ and intro, ‘Is the leader of India’s ruling party beyond reproach?’ accompanied by a photo of Sonia Gandhi on its cover.