When he runs out of Iqbal couplets for crisis situations, the Prime Minister looks to Raisina Hill for sage counsel. It was a measure of how deep Manmohan Singh felt he had sunk into a political morass that he stepped out of Parliament, into his designated car. The PM drove straight for an unscheduled visit next door to President Pranab Mukherjee.
Once his man for all political difficulties, the Prime Minister must be feeling the lack of Mukherjee’s services quite acutely at a time of acute crises. He is besieged on multiple fronts—the economy refusing to look up, the hole in the current account denting its rating even further, an internal re-ignition of the coal fire in the form of missing files and all leading to a dysfunctional Parliament. So much under siege, the PM on Saturday “cautioned” a group of young journalists gathered for the opening of the National Media Centre “a spirit of inquiry must not morph into a campaign of calumny. A witch-hunt is no substitute for investigative journalism.” He even bitterly remarked that the media was caught in “the tussle between bottom-lines and headlines”.
Unable to get its act together, both the PM and his ministers have been accusing the media of bias. Before the PM drove down for the unscheduled power meeting with the President, Law Minister Kapil Sibal and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla accused the media for taking a one-sided view on the Coal Ministry’s probe file disappearance, for giving the Opposition a handle to demand a statement from the PM in the House.
Significantly, the President-PM meeting took place in the backdrop of this new turmoil in Parliament. It was a day before Singh was to intervene in the discussion on the missing coal files in Rajya Sabha—the more functional of the two houses of Parliament. But before the PM met the President, there was little clarity in the Congress camp. The party’s MP-cum-lung power in Lok Sabha, Sanjay Nirupam, sharing internal party wisdom insisted, “Why should you PM speak when there is a minister holding the (coal) portfolio. He cannot be speaking on every ministry at every drop of the hat. The Cabinet in any case runs on collective responsibility.” It was a depressed Singh who went to meet Mukherjee for guidance. But all that changed by late evening. Sources in his party indicated a way out has been found—a compromise—which the Opposition has accepted. The Prime Minister will not make a statement, but he will intervene while the discussion on the missing files is on. It’s another matter that Andhra angst over the decision to create Telangana came in the way of the statement. And the ‘Save Andhra’ slogan of the TDP MPs, protesting the suspension of their party members from Lok Sabha, actually saved the PM.
It’s well-known that the Telangana decision was held up as long as Mukherjee was there in the government, he had cited the cascading effect it would have in other parts of India. Mukherjee once famously scolded protesting T-MPs, “Go ahead and resign, we’ll find other people to contest from your seats. So, don’t ask for the moon.” Though there is no direct correlation between the visit and Parliament function, the food security bill which has missed several deadlines may finally be taken up in Lok Sabha on Monday and Rajya Sabha on Tuesday. Just as the PM rushed to Rashtrapati Bhavan in the crisis, Sonia Gandhi had an exclusive meeting with the President prior to the session. Both seem to have sought advice of the former trouble-shooter of the UPA.