The biggest casualty of the Coalgate-burnt Monsoon Session is not the 22 bills that could not be introduced, or burning issues like fertiliser prices and terrorism be taken up for discussion; or even the `2.5 lakh lost for every minute of a dysfunctional Parliament. Coal fumes have tarnished the impeccable integrity of the man once touted as India’s economic messiah and Mr. Invincible—Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. His image has been tattered by his own silence, the clamour of an Opposition baying for his blood and the ineffectual and half-hearted defence of UPA’s ministers. Despite protestations from the Prime Minister’s Office, Singh is no longer the king of 9 per cent growth. He is a slave of scandal. His political journey from Mr Clean to one who is heading “the most scam-tainted government’’ since India’s Independence, seems to be complete.
Lonely and undefended by the dynasty that made him its top mandarin, the disillusioned prophet is left to fend for himself. The Congress party is panicking more about defending itself for 2014 than its prime minister: having lost the battle in Parliament, the party is taking to the streets. To explain Coalgate, Anand Sharma is going to Chhattisgarh, P Chidambaram to Maharashtra, Salman Khurshid to Madhya Pradesh and Jyotiraditya Scindia to Bihar, Rajiv Shukla is off to Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.
But as the Opposition flung accusations at the PM, the Congress high-command did precious little to arrest his fall, triggered by a damaging CAG report and an aggressive opposition which picked on it. “The Congress is allowing the coal soot to stick to the Prime Minister, the prince of party has been kept in hiding. Why has he not uttered a single word in Manmohan Singh’s defence?’’ a senior BJP leader said.
In fact, the Prime Minister’s slide from respectability to ridicule is best matched by the sliding rupee, the BJP leader added. For a change, the Congress rank and file could not agree any less. Actually, a powerful section within the Congress who could never digest the Bureaucrat Singh rise to the top political job has been quietly smirking.
Says a PMO official, the PM did not want to hold up the allocation of coal blocks till the auction legislation went through so as to spur growth in power, steel and cement—this was when the economy was growing at 8-9 per cent and Coal India Ltd was in meet the growing demand. But, his initiative was first subverted by those who were to implement the allocation policy and then by the Environment Minister who refused to give clearance.