Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has finally spoken. And what did he say? That he is not a lame duck, that he has the full backing of the party president, Sonia Gandhi, that if the party asks him to stop down he will do so happily, and that he has no objection to Rahul Gandhi becoming Prime Minister. He also thinks that he’ll get 5 to 7 marks out of 10 for his performance so far, that he is not helpless and accepts full responsibility for 'all the bad things that his government has done'.
He has also said that he has been entrusted with a job and has not heard any 'contrarian view'. So far so good.
Of course, if he is not wanted, the Congress President may not tell him in his face to go. The job of subtly conveying this may be entrusted to the Party Secretary, Digvijay Singh. The trouble is that Dr. Singh is only an administrative officer and not, Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi, the party president as well. He serves dual purpose. If all goes well, the party president can take credit. If things go bad, the blame can be laid at the Prime Minister’s door. Since that is the case, why should the party dispense with his services.
Dr. Singh must be as conscious of this as anyone else. He has become indispensable.
But how are we to take Digvijay Singh’s remarks on Rahul Gandhi’s fortieth birthday that the young man can now take on the Prime Ministership? That it is a slip of the tongue? The party secretary is known for often putting his foot in the mouth but there are many who believe, rightly or wrongly, that he may have been following instructions from 10 Janpath to test the waters. One never knows.
But what is more to the point is a statement. P.Chidambaram made in the course of an interview he gave to NDTV which said in plain terms that 'we should have Ministers, including cabinet Ministers, in their late forties, early fifties and that those over sixty', including himself, 'should stop back'. Asked whether he was 'skirting close' to the remarks Digvijay Singh made, his response was negative. But he averred that 'every generation will throw up a leader, every ten years throw up a Prime Minister' insisting that he ‘s sure the Congress Party would be happy should Rahul Gandhi be Prime Minister 'at an appropriate time'. Very diplomatically said.
It may be mentioned that when Jawaharlal Nehru became Congress President for the first time, he was just past forty. But then he had a good guide in Mahatma Gandhi. Besides, he was only a party president and not a Prime Minister which he subsequently became at the age of 58, again thanks to Gandhiji’s intervention.
Rahul can wait. As a matter of fact putting him in Dr Manmohan Singh’s shoes many turn out to be disastrous for the party. A known devil (pardon the expression, Mr Prime Minister) is better than an unknown one. Besides, word is going round that 'both legally and medically' Rahul cannot claim Prime Ministership and the sooner this is settled, the better for the Congress.
The one abiding truth us that power in the Congress rests in only one hand, that of Sonia Gandhi and that remains unchallenged. This was made clear by P Chidambaram when he was asked whether in a cabinet re-shuffle, he would like to keep the Home Ministership. His reply was classic. He said: 'Do I have a choice? Decisions are made by two people in our system, one , the Congress President, and the other, the Prime Minister'. What is true is that the Prime Minister may suggest his choice but the ultimate decision rests at 10 Janpath.
There is a lot of talk about a growing rift within the party. That is par for the course. In all the turbulent times of the past six months, the spokespersons of the party have been Digvijay Singh and, in recent times, Kapil Sibal. They have been hogging the show. True, it is not in the nature of Dr. Singh to be a public figure and there is no point in blaming him. He is too indrawn a character, being what he is: the senior most bureaucrat, unaccustomed to face a media mob braying for his blood.
That latter task has been allotted to the likes of Jayanti Natarajan and Manish Tiwari, a pathetic lot, both. And that explains the Congress failure to win friends and influence people.
What Dr. Singh should do is take a lesson from a former U.S.Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger who used to see a bunch of senior American media people based in Washington for an evening get together day after day. Dr Manmohan Singh may turn out to be too shy even to do that and that is where his failure lies. He just cannot blame the media for simultaneously being prosecutor, judge and jury.
Whether Dr. Singh likes it or not, that is the media’s job. If the truth is to be told Dr Singh’s self-assessment is anything but convincing. One doesn’t expect him to wave the magic wand and get things done overnight. One can appreciate his diffculties as when he spoke about black money.
'We are in the process of negotiating double taxation avoidance agreements, tax information agreements and we have fought hard in the Group of 20 to see that the secrecy of tax saving banking systems should be modified. This is not a one shot operation'. Agreed. But then he should have had the temerity to regularly meet the media, in private if possible, to explain matters instead leaving loud-mouthed government spokespersons to do the job they were preeminently unfit to do.
The party’s worst enemies are the Jayanti Natarajans, Manish Tiwaris, Digvijay Singhs and Kabil Sibals.
The UPA government has no understanding of how to handle the public and more specifically, the media.
A paradigm shift is called for. But let this be faced: UPA - II has been a tragic failure and for this the political leadership is as much as responsible as the administrative structure.
Both let matters to drift to a point of no return. Don’t blame Anna Hazare or Baba Ramdev: they merely reflected public sentiment. And it is even more stupid to blame the RSS, to which the Congress Party can’t hold a candle.
If elections are held tomorrow, the UPA will be trampled into dust, and a well-deserved fate, too. The nation is crying for a great leader to take it forward to greater glory but all that it has got is a Manmohan Singh and a Sonia Gandhi.
God save us. And let this be a warning to the Bharatiya Janata Party as well. There are just couple of more years for the next elections. The time to train the next leaders is not tomorrow: it is NOW.