IT is difficult to imagine why on earth so much song and dance was made out of an article in The Washington Post that was critical of Dr Manmohan Singh. It is obvious that the Prime Minister’s office is sadly ignorant of history and does not know its role. Worse things have been said in the US media about Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, Prime Ministers both, who couldn’t care less.
In the first place, the Post correspondent was merely reflecting what the Indian media has been saying about Dr Singh. In the second place he was even full of praise of Dr Singh’s earlier role as “architect of India’s economic reforms” and later “as a major force behind his country’s rapprochement with the United States” being “a respected figure on the world stage”. At the same time he was quite correct when he noted 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.”
Politicians must have a thick skin. Especially, Prime Ministers. As a foreign correspondent of some twenty odd years standing, having reported from the United Nations, Germany, France, most of Europe, not to speak of Washington DC itself, I may have offended some leaders but nobody ever demanded an apology from me. During the Nixon-Kissinger years, not just I, but all three of my fellow Indian colleagues were ignored by both the President and his Secretary of State (both nasty characters) but that was par for the course. Dr Singh could have conceded a request from the Post correspondent for an interview but he had no time to spare. But just think of what the Indian media has been saying about the Prime Minister.
One of the strongest critics has been The Free Press Journal. His ninth address from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort on August 15, said the paper ( August 17) was “dull as ditch water”. “Not much faith can be put in a lame duck governemt” it said, pointing out that Dr Singh failed “to inspire the nation”. In another editorial (September 6) the paper defended the Washington Post report claiming that there was “no new insight or insult” in its report that damned Dr Singh as “ineffective, dithering and a Prime Minister presiding over a deeply corrupt government”. “Retire this bureaucrat” the paper demanded.
Writing in the DNA (September 9), the paper’s National Affairs Editor Diptosh Majumdar said Dr Singh has not been “a political creature”, that “for the past six years he stands exposed” like a ‘lamb to the slaughter’ and he must know that/ lambs don’t make good Prime Ministers”. One can’t have come across a more damning indictment of Dr Singh than that piece by Majumdar. In the same paper (August 29), a political writer, Vivek Kaul, suggested in an equally damning article that Dr Manmohan Singh would have been “better off being silent”, considering that some of the things he had said about the allocation of coal blocks made “no sense”.
KP Nayar writing in The Telegraph (August 29) said “the Prime Minister’s silence is no longer golden”, noting “how does New Delhi expect the world to give it the mandate to be at the most important global high table when its prime Minister runs away from his responsibilities as a basic member of the United Nations, let alone India’s current duties as an elected member of the Security Council?”. Worse, said Mr Nayar: “Moreover, how can a country claim to be self-respecting when it cannot own up to its parallel and sometimes contrary responsibilities and, instead, attempts to be defensive about its actions by turning its back on the world stage?” The reference was to Dr Singh’s absence from the 67th annual UN General Assembly’s meeting. Nayar relentlessly added: “This is not the first time that he has run away from facing the Americans after doing something they do not approve of.”
Writing in Business Line (August 15) BS Raghavan, a highly respected senior Indian bureaucrat noted that “of late, a mocking and derisive tone has begun creeping into many of the writings on India by political and economic analysts”, adding that “not to put too fine a point to it, the time has come for Manmohan Singh to become an emeritus Prime Minister.” “The greatest and best service he can do at this stage” Raghavan added, “is to hand over the baton to someone else and take some well-earned rest.” Has the PM’s office demanded an apology from him? The Times of India (September 7) not accustomed to be over-harsh said that “the degree of disconnect between the government and public opinion at large is all too evident from its testy reaction to an article critical of the prime minister published in an American paper.” Said the paper: “Asking the newspaper to tender an apology as Information & Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni has done with such alacrity, is shooting the messenger who is a bearer of bad timings.” The paper added that “neither he (Dr Singh) nor his spin masters appear to be aware of the extent to which the credibility of the government has taken a nose drive” maintanining that “no amount of self-righteous outrage can help change the government’s battered image for the better.”
Criticism of Dr Singh has been on many grounds. He had tried to bail out Europe by promising $ 10 billion for the Eurozone defaulters, notably, Greece, Spain and Italy. That, said The New Indian Express (June 21 ) “is a cruel joke on the Indian taxpaper who has been reeling under the onslaught of inflation.” “This is” added the paper, “hardly the time of such a show of generosity when the Indian economy itself is facing a slowdown that could get worse with time.” Hindustan Times (September 13 ) did not mention Dr Singh by name but said that the Pew Survey “is a reminder for the UPA to reconsider the execution of its vision for India.” UPA has a vision for India? What vision, pray? As the Express (September 13 ) correctly analysed the Parliamentary logjam, throughout it “the Congress has displayed arrogance, inflexibility and adopted an attitude of confrontation” forgetting “that it doesn’t have a majority and can’t dictate terms.” It may well be asked: “When, Oh when will the UPA get out and make way for new elections?” The country has had enough of the Congress and its Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh.