Dr Jay Dubashi
REMEMBER the little boy who was watching an imperial procession, and when he saw the emperor himself, yelled that the emperor had no clothes? This is what Washington Post’s correspondent in Delhi has done with his report on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Prime Minister has no clothes, says the piece, while the PMO in Delhi doesn’t know which way to look.
Washington Post is no ordinary newspaper. It is the only serious paper published from Washington and the paper US presidents read with their morning tea. Barack Obama must have been chuckling as he read the piece. It is also the paper which forced Richard Nixon’s resignation with its stories on Watergate. Nixon would have wrung the reporter’s and, of course, the editor’s necks, if he would get at them, but ultimately the man had to go, and the newspaper is still going strong.
The story about the PM accuses him of timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty, strong words for a reporter to use about the head of government of a country he is supposed to cover. The last phrase—intellectual dishonesty—actually means lying, but he cannot say so out of respect for the man in such a high position. But that is precisely what the PM has been upto all these months. He sits in the Parliament, and in his office on the Raisina Hill, like a Buddha, while serious accusations against his government and his party men fly to and fro, but he does nothing, precisely nothing. 2-G Spectrum scam? Never heard of it. Commonwealth Games racket? Ask Sheila Dixit, Coal allocations? The coal minister handles it. As for the PM himself, he saw nothing, heard nothing, and says nothing, and who are you to question a certified honest man like me?
Infact, he makes much of his silence, and flings a shairi or two at you. He has brought himself to believe that he or his office is above all such things, and it his colleagues have made hay, go and ask them. He himself is squeaky clean and how dare you point your finger at me?
Unfortunately, this is not how foreigners – and most Indians – see it. The buck stops here, said Harry S. Truman, and he pointed at his desk. For Dr Manmohan Singh, it stops everywhere else, but not at his desk. The Washington Post reporter accuses him of intellectual dishonesty, strong words for a reporter to use in the case of a Prime Minister of the host country, but many people will agree with him.
What was the government’s immediate reaction to the report? The information and broadcasting minister, who is supposed to be the keeper of the government’s conscience, said she would take up the matter officially and demand an apology. The lady protests too much. Apology from whom? The newspaper has already said it will not apologise. It will publish any letter the government cares to give, but neither the newspaper nor the Delhi-based reporter will apologise and stand by their piece.
Our lady can go to Hillary Clinton, through the devious channels governments do their business and lodge her complaint. What can poor Hillary do? She cannot take up the matter with the newspaper as that is almost a felony in the US. She cannot send income tax people to raid the proprietor’s premises, as our authorities do in India. She cannot ask the equivalent of our CBI to pull up the owners, or else, as is routinely done in India. She cannot even speak to the owner’s wife at a cocktail party as that would be construed as intimidation, and poor Hillary would be out of a job. It is not a matter between governments, whatever our information ministers might think, but between the newspaper and the PM, and there is little the PM can do but adopt another Buddha – like pose, and try to forget the whole thing.
I recall a similar case sixty years ago when a newspaper in London had carried a similar, but not so vitriolic, report about Nehru, who was then India’s prime Minister. Krishna Menon, who was High Commissioner in London at the time, was asked to do some thing about it.Menon knew the man too well to attempt any such thing, but he invited the man to a meal and broached or tried to broach the delicate subject. The man looked vacantly at Menon and went on with his fish and chips. Nothing came of his attempt to get the man to talk and the lunch ended with a lot of fish bones on his plate and a lot of chips on Krishna Menon’s.
Incidentally, I was at that time Menon’s assistant and knew what was going on. I tried to meet the man again, but it was a futile attempt.
If I were in the Prime Minister’s shoes, I would resign immediately – something he ought to have done long ago – and call it a day. His reputation is in the dumps and the man has become a figure of ridicule, just as Rajiv Gandhi had become after Bofors. Children in Bihar – of all places – were apparently going round shouting Gali gali men shor hai, Rajiv Gandhi chor hai. Poor Rajiv never recovered from that scandal, no matter how hard he tried to explain. There was, of course, nothing to explain. It was plain that he or his people had taken money from the Swedes, and there was no way he could hide his part in the scam.
Manmohan Singh has done no such thing. He is not personally involved in any racket and has not personally profited from any of the scams. But the fact remains that he has permitted his friends – many of them ministers in his government, and some of whom sit next to him in Cabinet meetings – to plunder the national exchequer, and while they did it, he himself did nothing to stop them.
It must be said that this is the usual Congress practice – you permit your men to loot the country while you look the other way. Under Krishna Menon, men in the defence services are said to have received kickbacks, and some people say that Menon himself was involved. It is unbelievable that Nehru did not know about the goings-on in his own backyard, particularly since newspapers were full of stories about them. Yet he did nothing. He did not even ask Menon whether he knew about such things and what he, that is, Menon had done about it. But Nehru just sat in his office and did nothing, even after the Chinese had struck, just as, while one scam after another hit the headlines, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, one-time super-economist and bureaucrat, simply sat there blinking, and did nothing.
Do you really blame newspaper reporters, foreign and desi, for pointing this out to the world?