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Why is India's 'Regent' PM angry?

Why is India's 'Regent' PM angry?

Author: Sudheendra Kulkarni
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: April 12, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/why-is-indias-regent-pm-angry/446034/

Of late, our soft-spoken Prime Minister has begun using harsh language-not about the enemies of the nation but about the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. And it's not just him, his leader too is doing that.

Sonia Gandhi does not like Dr Manmohan Singh being called a "weak" Prime Minister. At an election rally last week, she angrily declared that BJP leader L.K. Advani's description of Dr Singh as a "weak" PM amounts to showing disrespect to the nation. It is baffling how a critical assessment of Dr Singh's performance as PM can invite this grave charge. A few days later, Dr Singh himself termed Advani's criticism as "abusive". I wonder if Dr Singh really doesn't know the difference between criticism and abuse. Either he thinks any criticism of him is necessarily an insult or he has deliberately used a harsher word in the hope of winning public sympathy.

Both Advani's criticism of the PM and the latter's diatribe against Advani need to be dissected. Dr Singh's partymen and supporters may think he is a strong PM. They are entitled to their judgement, just as his critics are entitled to theirs. The only way this can be debated meaningfully is by foregrounding the debate against the PM's actual performance in the last five years. Take, for example, the most recent episode of the Congress Party having been shamed into withdrawing Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar as its candidates for the Lok Sabha polls in New Delhi. The PM says he was neither informed nor consulted in the matter of the CBI's clean chit to Tytler for his alleged involvement in the carnage of Sikhs in 1984. Mr Prime Minister, the CBI functions directly under you. Were you similarly kept in the dark when the CBI allowed Ottavio Quattrocchi to go scot-free with the Bofors booty?

Let's come back to Tytler, who was a minister in the UPA government. After the Nanavati Commission indicted him in 2005, Dr Singh's position became so untenable in the face of the combined Opposition's demand for the tainted minister's dismissal that the PM not only conceded the demand but also had to apologise in Parliament for the 1984 riots-the first Congress PM to do so after 21 long years. If Dr Singh was a strong PM, did he put his foot down when the Congress president chose to give Tytler the Congress ticket? Or was he again not "informed and consulted"? After the CBI gave a clean chit to Tytler, did he seek an explanation from the CBI director? Why did he wait for journalist Jarnail Singh to force the Congress president to resort to a belated act of damage control? For Dr Singh to congratulate his party for being "sensitive to the sentiments of Sikhs", and further to say "better late than never", smacks of disingenuousness.

One expects a strong PM to be both principled and decisive. Has Dr Singh displayed either of the two qualities in the matter of massive influx of Bangladeshi infiltrators into Assam, which has grave implications for India's security and unity? He has been a Rajya Sabha member from Assam for the past 18 years. Hence, both as MP and PM, he is duty bound to pay heed to the Supreme Court's warning in 2005 that unchecked infiltration of millions of Bangladeshis constitutes "external aggression". The Court had directed the government to take "effective action" to save Assam. Dr Singh's government took no action whatsoever. Indeed, when Sriprakash Jaiswal, MoS (Home), told the Rajya Sabha in July 2004 that there were 1.2 crore illegal Bangladeshi migrants living in 17 Indian states, Dr Singh publicly questioned the authenticity of the information provided by his own minister.

The matter is not unrelated to the unabated internal subversion in Assam. After all, the state has witnessed over 30 terrorist acts in the past five years by Bangladesh-based and ISI-supported terrorist groups. Yet, there is not a word about infiltration from Bangladesh in the Congress manifesto, which Dr Singh himself released, along with Sonia Gandhi, a fortnight ago. Is it the sign of a strong PM to be silent on such a vital issue? And is he a strong PM who does not pull up his ministerial colleague for demanding Indian citizenship to all illegal Bangladeshi migrants? Who has not taken action against a single corrupt minister in his government? Who kept mum when his party's manifesto chose not to mention the word 'corruption' even once?

One last question. What kind of prime ministerial candidate is Dr Singh who has not presented himself as a candidate in the Lok Sabha elections? It is amusing that he has invoked the name of Indira Gandhi, who too was a Rajya Sabha member for some time after becoming PM. But she soon fought a Lok Sabha election and won. Technically, even a Rajya Sabha member can become PM. But in the scheme of parliamentary democracy that our Constitution has drawn up, the Lok Sabha has superior powers. Moreover, the Prime Minister of India is not a CEO reporting to his chairperson. He is the country's highest political leader, whose executive power derives from the political authority vested by the people. Dr Singh had no direct contact with the masses when he was a bureaucrat. What is not justifiable is the fact that even after becoming PM, he never tried to establish a rapport with the masses.

In the Congress scheme of things, Dr Singh is nothing more than a stopgap arrangement in the dynastic succession, a modern-day regent. In ancient and medieval times, whenever the simhaasan fell vacant, and the yuvraj was too young and inexperienced to occupy it, a trusted aide of the royal family used to be made the temporary ruler, who would relinquish the throne as soon as the prince came of age. The only difference between then and now is that a prince in the past used to be placed under the tutelage of a regent when he was 10 or 20 years of age. Rahul Gandhi is 38 and still remains inexperienced. So much for projecting him as the "Hope of Young India". And so much for Dr Singh as a strong PM.

- sudheenkulkarni@gmail.com


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