Dr Manmohan Singh is the wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. He should have retired by now and writing his memoirs, though they cannot be very exciting. Instead, he has to deal with men like Anna Hazare, a name he must not have heard of six months ago, and who is now suddenly all over him, and making all the headlines, while Singh, poor fellow, addresses a meeting of the Planning Commission in that dilapidated building on Parliament Street, known as Yojana Bhavan, while Delhi burns.
It is not Singh’s fault. The man was never cut out to be Prime Minister but was saddled with the job as the Gandhi family, one of the most corrupt families – if not the most corrupt–of India, simply did not feel it was upto it. Singh has always been a babu at heart and for him it was a promotion. It was like being elevated from Joint Secretary to Additional Secretary, and Singh grabbed the opportunity and hurried to Race Course Road, without realising that he was taking up a political job, for which he had neither talent nor capacity.
Singh also believed that because he was a clean man, his administration would also be automatically clean. But things don’t happen that way. They have to be made to happen. With the kind of colleagues he chose, or were selected for him, he was not his own master in his own house. While somebody else pulled the strings, Singh sat on his gaddi, signing the files, and making speeches others wrote for him.
Singh now pretends that he had no idea his own people in the government – and outside the government – were robbing him right and left. But he looked the other way because those were the instructions. After all, the men, and women, who robbed the government were closer to the powers that be than he could ever be. Singh now pretends he knew nothing about 2G, or the loot in Commonwealth Games or other scams taking place right under his nose, because he was ordered to do so. Ordered by whom? Your guess is as good as mine. He was told not once, not twice, but may be a hundred times that his government, or the government over which he was supposed to be presiding, was being looted right and left, but he pretended he had not heard. Thus he came to preside over the most corrupt administration this country has ever seen, while the man himself looked conveniently the other way.
But Singh is no fool. He knew what he was doing. His trump card was the economy. The economy had done very well under him, not because of anything special he had done, but because it was, post liberalisation, a different type of economy, and was bound to do well. Even in China, nearly as corrupt as India, the economy had done very well after liberalisation. The Chinese leaders were telling people, look here, you are doing very well and your children will do even better. Don’t ask for freedom and democracy and clean administration as long as you are doing so well. You give us power, and we give you houses, cars, foreign trips and secret accounts in Switzerland. It’s a fair bargain and as long as you are getting rich, you should not ask about democracy or corruption.
Singh has been doing the same in India. He is in fact saying that we, that is, Indians should not be complaining about corruption, as long as the economy is doing well and we are all getting rich. It is a kind of unwritten contract between the people and the ruling party. Don’t ask too many questions about corruption as long as you make lot of money – either through corruption or otherwise – for there is nothing we can do about corruption. Corruption is, after all, a global phenomenon, and there is nothing we care do about it, as long as the whole world is corrupt.
Not so, said some people, and people like Hazare, a non-descript man from a God forsaken village in the wilds of Maharashtra, supported them. Until about six months ago, nobody outside Maharashtra had heard of him. Until two months ago, whole of India had not only heard about him but seen him arguing with some colleagues of Manmohan Singh in Delhi.
Now the whole world has heard about him, from BBC to CNN, from New York Times in New York to The Guardian in London, and from Le Monde in Paris to The Australian in Sydney. Anna Hazare, whether you like it or not, is all over the place figuratively, though he sleeps on a hard bench under a canopy in Ramlila Maidan, and watches milling crowds come and go, and they bless him and he blesses them, for he has become a kind of saviour, though he alone knows that corruption is a kind of disease that calls for a major operation, or a series of surgical operations, which he alone cannot manage.
Why are people running after Anna Hazare, just as they did after JP before and during the Emergency thirty years ago, which was imposed on country by the same family against whom people have now revolted? People like Singh, who, God alone knows, what they were doing during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, probably cannot even spell the word “Revolt”. But that is precisely what is happening now, just as it happened in 1975, and will keep happening when the government becomes too arrogant and too corrupt, as it has become now. If Manmohan Singh does not realise this, and keeps talking in terms of Standing Committees and Parliamentary Supremacy, he should go back to his school in Amritsar and take out old textbooks and start reading them.
Congressmen say that the current movement is essentially a middle class affair and does not really touch other classes. What is wrong with a middle class movement? All great movements and all great political revolutions are led by the middle class. The Indian National Congress itself was founded by the middle class, in fact, by the upper middle class. Neither Motilal Nehru nor Pherozeshah Mehta belonged to the proletariat. The Socialist Party in India was led by the middle class – men like JP (who had studied in the US for seven years) and Ram Manohar Lohia (son of a prosperous merchant from Calcutta) and Minoo Masani (son of Sir RP Masani, Vice-Chancellor of Bombay University). Indian communist leaders from SA Dange to BT Randive came from middle class families. Lenin and Trotsky, leaders of the Soviet revolution, were middle class men, and so was Mohandas K Gandhi and most of his followers.
In fact, Anna Hazare is an exception. He is definitely not, repeat not, a middle class man. He is a drop-out from school and retired from the army as a truck driver, not something army officers from the middle class do. Hazare is a certified working class man, leading a movement that is supported by all classes, which is why it is such a popular movement, not like the Congress, a private preserve of a private family, which is using it for making money under the leadership of a person who does not belong to this country, cannot speak any of its languages and is responsible for the mess around us. Unfortunately, Manmohan Singh himself is part of this mess, but he cannot say he didn’t ask for it.