History May Not Judge PM Manmohan Singh, it May Just Forget Him
By TSR Subramanian | Published: 08th June 2014 06:00 AM |
In the past couple of weeks, as a new management has taken over the country, there is new hope, a renewed expectation that our nation will renew its drive to realise its potential. This is no time for retrospection; before the full focus is turned on the future, let us take one last quick look at Manmohan Singh, the nominal national CEO for 10 years, usually uncommunicative and taciturn, who had made two remarks in the final days. Referring to unrelenting criticism, he had declared, defensively, “history will judge me”; in his farewell speech, he had pleaded “my life is an open book”.
Many other famous last words in history have been spoken, more momentous than these. Caesar had once said “Veni, Vidi, Vici”; Churchill had once exhorted his countrymen to be ready to give their “blood, sweat and tears”; Armstrong had taken a “small step for a man, but a giant leap for mankind”. In recent years, many lesser men in India had also their bit to contribute—Kapil Sibal’s “zero loss” in the context of 2G, and Chidambaram’s, “the coal is still in mother earth”, and Mani Shankar Aiyar’s reference to a certain tea vendor. These latter pronouncements are examples symbolising an era which deserves to be forgotten.
History has assessed many past Prime Ministers. While others have been forgotten, Nehru had left a large footprint on the nation. He defined the initial momentum for nation building; with all of the great things that he achieved, he is equally remembered for not anticipating gross venality in our political system and ushering in pre-emptive measures, as well as his Himalayan blunders; equally for pushing Article 370 through. Indira also played a major role, and took India forward; she is equally remembered for doing her best to destroy democracy, and for crippling our institutions. Narasimha Rao, despite the JMM scandal and Babri Masjid demolition, will be remembered for the first move to open up the economy—it needs to be reiterated that the exclusive credit for this should go to Rao, and not to then finance minister Manmohan. Deve Gowda and I K Gujral had brief tenures, but took major strides in ushering in reforms—much of what has happened in the economy since their period can be attributed to the seeds sown at that time. The Vajpayee government built heavily on these starts, and the credit for the UPA doing fairly well in the first term should go to the consolidation done by the first NDA government. Alas, the last 10 years have hardly seen any governance. the period will be remembered only for 2G and Coalgate—Bofors is now a distant memory. Equally, the system was rudderless, inept, uncoordinated and oblivious to everything.
Ten years is a long time to give direction to the economy polity and society; alas, leadership was totally lacking. Manmohan turned out to be a total non-entity, remote-controlled from a source which did not have adequate comprehension of the nation’s needs. Chairs are not merely for occupation, or for the adornment of the incumbent of the day. The CEO has to orchestrate strategy—and perform, lead, direct, coordinate—ensure that things get done. None of this was seen from the chief of the administration for 10 years. A CEO is not to be like the Nawab playing shatranj or like Nero fiddling at a time of crisis.
Let’s quickly touch upon Manmohan’s two final statements. All public servants are expected to be honest; probity and openness may be necessary, but clearly not sufficient conditions for success. Alexander or Newton or Einstein or Washington are not remembered for their honesty, they are remembered for successes and achieving results. Every bureaucrat requires an annual certification about his ‘integrity’; it is entirely another matter that in the past decades, the deterioration in standards leads one to point to honesty as a virtue in a public servant. An honest person may join a monastery; all puppets are honest; honesty is not sufficient credential to lead a country—if Manmohan had claimed that his administration was clean, that is a separate matter. ‘Zero tolerance’ to corruption, his earlier famous quote, was as empty a slogan as Indira’s ‘remove poverty’; acts of omission at critical times are as culpable as commission of blunders. The Prime Minister’s job is not just to be there, be an ‘honourable man’. The fact is that the Central government and many state governments had reached the heights of corruption in the past decade—the PM, as a silent spectator needs to take the blame. He may get high marks for personal honesty, but zero for management.
History will judge that the head of the administration outsourced the management, and abdicated his role, diminishing the office of PM. Indeed, if the current incumbent had not come in with the massive majority that he has, he would have had a difficult time to reassert the position of the office of PM. Till recently we had a President who came into prominence from time to time only for the wrong reasons; the best way to remember President Pratibha Patel is to forget her. History may not bother to judge Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it may just decide to forget him.