Couldn’t the PM show some feelings in a time of strong feelings?
Of the many things that went wrong during Big Bad Year 2012, which was the most upsetting? That’s not an easy question to answer because there were too many Big Bad Things that were disconcerting. Hopes were shattered and fears came true. Heroes developed clay feet, villains became kings. Politicians grew fat, mafia cronies fatter. Mango in-laws made jokes about aam aadmis.
Consider Mamata Banerjee. A hugely popular leader, she was different from other politicians, living in a tiny house in a crowded area, a picture of frugality and honesty. Overnight she changed into an ogre. Her admitted hero was Rabindranath Tagore, yet she made Bengalis moan about the state:
Where the mind is full of fear and the head held low.
Consider other let-downs. When young and educated Akhilesh Yadav became chief minister of UP, there was hope that at last that ravaged state would be free of criminal politicians. But it became free of only Mayawati’s criminal politicians. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s lot staged a triumphant comeback and the state continued to be the playground of thugs.
When Anna Hazare inspired people to protest against the corrupt political class, Home Minister Chidambaram, a man with no feel for the public pulse, could only think of beating up people and putting Hazare in jail. When women and students in their thousands rose against the brutalisation of a girl in a moving bus in Delhi, all that Home Minister Shinde could think of was beating them up and calling them Maoists. Ministers shamed India last year and this year.
Let us not forget the dynastic rulers of Punjab where well-connected politicians can kill and rape with immunity. One man who was shot dead was a policeman in uniform who had tried to protect his daughter being harassed by a ruling politician. In Mumbai, if it’s a Pawar he gets clean chits. In Karnataka, jail or bail, Yeddyurappa is convinced that he alone has the right to rule. In Bengal, the son of respected parents and brother of a civilised lady goes bonkers and attacks women, discos, makeup, demonstrations, all at once. He probably had secret ambitions to get painted, but frustrations dented his mind.
Any of these could qualify as the Great Upset of 2012. But they must all yield to the performance style of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This might have escaped our attention because it was so quiet and undramatic. But think about it. Can anything be more worrying for a country than its prime minister becoming inscrutable?
It may be his realisation that politics is more than economics. It may be Soniaji’s presence round the corner all the time. Whatever the reason, he has developed special techniques to cope. The expressionlessness of his face as he sits in Parliament is one of the wonders of the world. We know he is not sleeping because sleep gives an expression of its own to the human face. The Manmohan face does not have that either.
And he avoids speaking his mind. When did we hear him speak—really speak—after the war over the Indo-US nuclear treaty which he singlehandedly fought and won? So he can speak if he wants to. So the point is he doesn’t want to. For three tumultuous days we did not know what our prime minister felt about the bus rape horror in Delhi. Then he came on television and delivered one of the worst speeches in the history of mankind. It was a one-minute speech. Could he not say those few sentences looking into the camera, into the eyes of people, instead of the paper on his table? As a father of the daughters he mentioned, could he not bring a modicum of human emotion to what he was saying? Even the theek hai he said at the end was so meek and inaudible that it need not have triggered the fuss it did. His rape speech will be remembered as the grand tragedy of 2012. Perhaps he had no choice. The presence of the High Command is so overpowering that only an expressionless, opinionless, emotionless prime minister can be theek hai.