‘Poodle doodle’: Washout domestically; a spectre of ridicule internationally
The latest assessment of the government’s performance and calling the prime minister ‘tragic’ has not come as a surprise to most people in the country, not even to the government which is fire-fighting over allegations of new corruption charges against Union Ministers every day. If the Time magazine had called Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh an ‘underachiever’, Independent of the UK called him Sonia’s ‘poodle’, Google, the tech giant, went a step further and called the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh team a ‘poodle doodle’.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has spent a lot of time travelling abroad where he finds himself quite comfortable away from the prying eyes of the domestic media which now suspects every deal and transaction of his government. And him saying that his silence is better than a thousand words spoken drives a wedge in his own party which is rudderless and directionless in the face of an impending advanced mid-term polls.
Dr Singh has tried to work out a way to impress the international community, especially in the White world, with his largesse. He had announced a $40-billion (in two instalments) contribution to the IMF’s additional $430-billion financial firewall. This unusually large contribution was to help the debt-wracked 17-nation Eurozone so that the faltering world economy is protected against the spread of any financial contagion. Though the after-effects of the contribution was not even felt given Europe’s studied indifference to India’s problems, the international media has only seen through Dr Singh’s game.
In April India had pledged $20 billion in development aid. All this has been happening when people in India has been reeling under unrelenting inflationary pressures with commodity prices rising in double digit month-on-month basis. If the contribution to the Eurozone has had any effect, it is not seen in the fast evaporating FDI investments in India which usually come from the US and Europe.
If news media in India is subsumed by new corruption coverage by the hour the mainstream media abroad admittedly “is having so much fun at Dr. Singh’s expense”. K. Balaji head of Google Doodle India with quite some reservations said that, “so we thought why not let Google users also join in and partake in the revelry. This is also our way of paying tribute to him for introducing colorful words such as ‘Under-achiever’, ‘Lame-Duck’ and now ‘Poodle’ into the discourse on national politics”. Such is the unbridled contempt of the government abroad.
Also, the pall of rectitude which the Prime Minister was known for has been removed after the BJP has started accusing the prime minister directly for the corruption under his charge, especially when he was Union Coal Minister when the multi-lakh-crore scandal took place.
Simon Denyer, Washington Post Bureau chief in New Delhi, refused to acknowledge that he had apologised to the government though the Prime Minister’s Office issued a clarification which stated that Denyer had said sorry for the frailties in his news website. The clarification did not mention anything about his opinion of the PM being a tragic figure even if it was hair-splitting on internet technicalities.
Denyer wrote in the Washington Post that, “the image of the scrupulously honourable, humble and intellectual technocrat has slowly given way to a completely different one: a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.”
He went to explain the current impasse in Indian politics by saying, “economic reforms have stalled, growth has slowed sharply and the rupee has collapsed. But just as damaging to his (Dr Singh’s) reputation is the accusation that he looked the other way and remained silent as his Cabinet colleagues filled their own pockets”. The report fails to mention the size of the loot which could have added to the enormity of the scandal that this government has got involved in.
The CAG report over the coal blocks allocation had stated that the ministers’ direct actions caused a loss of Rs1.86-lakh-crore to the exchequer. Incidentally, Dr Singh was Union Coal Minister during the allocation between 2005 and 2010. The foreign media has been quite supportive of the Opposition parties stalling the Parliament over the charges made against the Prime Minister. Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley said that an independent inquiry by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court should lead the investigations against the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues, Dr Singh cannot remain the PM.
The foreign media seems to be convinced that the silence maintained by the Prime Minister is not without a good reason. The fact that no one in the government is answerable for the corruption that goes on in almost all the Union ministries is a careful ploy to subvert the system. Dr Singh’s ‘coalition compulsions’ have also been nailed by the media as many of the shenanigans of this government has been committed by Congress Party members and not coalition partners.
Dr Singh has visited the US and Europe on many occasions, especially for the G-20 meetings, which have been a platform for the Prime Minister to laud his own work and initiatives to bring India to the next orbit. Yet the corrupt practices of his ministers and his own actions as the Union Coal Minister during the five years in the last decade has come to haunt him.
The international sense of disappointment when the world is looking at India to lead in investment in infrastructure, which by itself is enough to get the country out of the doldrums, is revealed in the news reports abroad. As Denyer wrote, “every day for the past two weeks, India’s Parliament has been adjourned as the Opposition bays for Singh’s resignation over allegations of waste and corruption in the allocation of coal-mining concessions. The story of Singh’s dramatic fall from grace in his second term in office and the slow but steady tarnishing of his reputation has played out in parallel with his country’s decline on his watch. As India’s economy has slowed and as its reputation for rampant corruption has reasserted itself, the idea that the country was on an inexorable road to becoming a global power has increasingly come into question,” Can there be a better assessment of the government’s ineptness?
Its trouble time for the Indian Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. Its bad news for the leader who preferred to play to the international arena rather than to his domestic constituency. Never had been an Indian Prime Minister been criticised and ridiculed by the international media, so consistently. The image of the ruling Congress led UPA coalition is now being tarnished globally.
After the Time magazine called him an “underachiever”, an article in the Washington Post flayed him for being a “silent” Prime Minister who has become “a tragic figure”. Reacting strongly against the article, the Indian Information and Broadcasting Minister, Ambika Soni said that the article is “ unacceptable” and the “claims are completely baseless and we reject it. The article stated : “ the shy, soft-spoken 79-year-old is in danger of going down in history as a failure.” External Affairs ministry is expected to take-up the issue. So far the Washington Post said that “no apology” has been offered for the article.” “They have done this kind of things earlier and had apologised. If the Washington Post has written things like this against the Prime Minister, trust me I will take strong action against them,” Ms Soni said.
Attacking the image of the Prime Minister, who has been commanding a “ a great respect in the world stage,” the article said : “ the image of the scrupulously honorable, humble and intellectual technocrat has slowly given way to a completely different one: a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.”
The article claimed that the Prime Minister had “dramatically fallen from race during the second term in his office.” It said: “The slow but steady tarnishing of his reputation has played out in parallel with his country’s decline on his watch.” Quesioning India’s rise as a global power, the Washington Post article stated: “As India’s economy has slowed and as its reputation for rampant corruption has reasserted itself, the idea that the country was on an inexorable road to becoming a global power has increasingly come into question.” And then came the sting.
Quoting political historian, Ramachandra Guha the article stated: “More and more, he has become a tragic figure in our history. A man fatally handicapped by his timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty…. a man who felt undermined by his own party and who sank into depression and self-pity.”
The article also criticised the Prime Minister for “looking the other way” and remaining “silent as his Cabinet colleagues filled their own pockets.” It also quoted PM’s former media adviser, Sanjaya Baru, saying: “In the process, he (Manmohan Singh) transformed himself from an object of respect to one of ridicule and endured the worst period in his life.”
The article also took a dig at the PM’s statement in the Parliament by saying: “His brief statement to the media afterward appeared to do little to change the impression of a man whose aloofness from the rough-and-tumble of Indian politics has been transformed from an asset into a liability.” It then said : “ Singh probably will survive calls for his resignation, but the scandal represents a new low in a reputation that has been sinking for more than a year.”