Monday, February 17, 2014

Behind Powell-Modi Handshaeke Lies US need .... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/February 16, 2014

Behind Powell-Modi Handshake Lies US Need to Capture Money Market Called India


Politics and diplomacy are poles apart. The former is the art of saying nothing while doing something, the latter practices the game of expatiating more than necessary. While politicians shout at each other to make their point, diplomats score victories through unspoken words and visible postures. This maxim was quite evident when US Ambassador Nancy Powell, of tomboy coiffure and pugnacious build, drove to Gandhinagar to meet CM Narendra Modi, who her country had been treating like a pariah for a decade. She didn’t utter a word to the media. Nor did Modi. But political supporters and opponents exchanged high-decibel verbal fire. Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid dripped sarcasm while observing he would “be interested in knowing what Powell tells Modi. In the past, countries on human rights have lectured us. It would be interesting to know what the US makes out of what happened in Gujarat”. The Congress appears to be convinced that the Powell-Modi handshake at this crucial juncture would swing the mind of voters in favour of the saffron party.

Plenipotentiary tourism to India proves that even diplomacy has no permanent friends or foes.
It was clear that diplomatic expeditions to Gandhinagar were acquiring legitimacy and significance. For the first time, political parties are gloating over foreigners endorsing their policies and personalities. Though there is hardly any commonality between politics and diplomacy, both swear to protect national interests. If Powell and other envoys before her had flown to Gandhinagar, it was meant to protect and project only the interest of nations they represent and not to promote their host or his political philosophy. The BJP leadership was vertically divided over the impact of Powell’s visit. Only those who directly or indirectly represent the interests of Dollar Power projected her sojourn as a victory for Modi. It is true that Modi has been resisting meeting the US representative at a place and time of her liking. According to party insiders, some Delhi-based Modi acolytes attempted to arrange a meeting between the two in Delhi. The idea of hosting a dinner where Modi would “just drop in” was proposed. But the Gujarat satrap torpedoed the plan, which led to panic in the US establishment. Finally they instructed Powell to fly to Ahmedabad. Though Modi has been seeking endorsements from Western powers and global corporations, he never allowed them to dictate terms. Tech-savvy campaign managers surround him. He has been enjoying the company of corporate czars. Besides attending packed, choreographed public rallies, Modi has not thrown away any chance to be seen schmoozing with the chatterati, who would dump him the moment he doesn’t make it to 7 RCR.
But the Americans also didn’t want to give the impression that Powell had exclusively gone to meet Modi. Before and after her visit, the US government made it clear that Powell has been on many pre-poll exploratory visits to many states and Gujarat was just one of her many halts to meet leaders of political parties. Interestingly, the Indian media made a big splash of the Modi-Powell parley but ignored a similar pow-wow she had with Congress leader Shankarsinh Vaghela. If she spent 45 minutes with Modi, she gave 40 minutes to Vaghela, having driven down to his home as well. He was much more forthcoming in his interaction with the media, saying “she had questions about the human rights situation in Gujarat and also wanted to know the probable scenarios in the event of either a BJP-led NDA or a Congress-led coalition winning elections”. Obviously, Powell had treated both leaders as equals. The US also announced that it looks forward to working closely with any government that the Indian people would choose. It announced that its ambassador would be meeting West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. It is tragic that both the foreign establishment and Indian elite believe that voters can be swayed by green room interventions of a foreign hand. They seem to have forgotten that the power to influence the democratic verdict has moved away from metropolises to the caste-infested small towns and villages of India. It is obvious that foreign countries, particularly the West, are taking extraordinary interest in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. While tourist traffic may have stagnated, there has been a sharp spurt in the number of known and unknown diplomats and lobbyists from many nations descending on India. Earlier they were totally dependent on local missions, which would confine interactions to a select group of opinion-makers with savoir vivre. The Delhi-based ambassadors are finding it difficult to gauge the mood of the people as a new class and breed of leaders have sprouted in various parts of the country. For Powell and her ilk, the rise of AAP and its leadership was an unforeseen miracle. Similarly they were living under the illusion that Modi and other regional leaders could be manipulated through self-appointed promoters in Delhi. Americans and their camp followers have been spending resources and efforts on sending some Indian regional leaders to Washington to be brainwashed, but these captive megaphones failed to deliver except for organising a few seminars and chatfests. Now, they are under pressure from their leadership and business lobbies to capture the real on-the-ground situation in India, which is a big money-making market. For America, it is more important to capture markets than territory. For this, it can go to any extent. If the US is willing to talk turkey with the Taliban, which is responsible for killing 3,000 American soldiers, it can walk the extra mile in any part of the world to protect its economic interests. Plenipotentiary tourism to India proves that even diplomacy has no permanent friends or foes. The only constant factor is getting more bucks using a fleeting fake smile accompanied by a tepid handshake.
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, February 10, 2014

Erosion of Parliament's Credibility ..... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/February 09, 2014

Erosion of Parliament's Credibility Reflects Weakening Control of Ineffective Leadership




In the dust storm of demagoguery, is the truth that our politicians are making Parliament an irrelevant institution, lost? Or is it the leadership’s lack of will which is paralysing parliamentary democracy? If the amount of business conducted in both Houses of Parliament during the past five years is any indication, it is evident that both the treasury benches and Opposition have ignored legislation in favour of filibustering and chaos. In a democracy, it is the ruling party’s right to govern. It is the Opposition’s fundamental right to be heard. But Indian Parliament has set new trends in democracy by replacing debate with cacophony and aggressive but absonous arguments. As the curtain falls on the current Lok Sabha, it will go down as the worst performing House in the history of independent India. It will earn the infamy as an institution that failed India by tow rowing over petty issues, scoring brownie points sans substance and converting the temple of democracy into an obstreperous laboratory to breed vote-banks. In the past five years, the House has sat for merely 350 days approximately during 15 sessions, as against the 500 days it was expected to assemble for the purpose of transacting business. Never before in its history has almost half of its time been lost on disruptions. The current Lok Sabha will also set the splenetic record of boasting the lowest rate of achieving legislative targets in five years. Perhaps it will be remembered as the House where the Prime Minister spoke the least, along with 100-odd MPs who were either politically aphonic or spoke rarely.
Parliament is expected to be a forum for healthy debates and discussions on issues of public interest. But can the government or the Opposition use its last sessions to merely push the individual electoral agendas of each? On the eve of the last session, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi made fervent appeals to the Opposition to cooperate with the government in pushing pending bills. Sure enough, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, and other political paladins responded positively. But they forgot their promise the day the session began. While the Congress dissidents were determined to disrupt the House with the objective of preventing the creation of Telangana, other parties used the platform to push their own agendas. The bills on Communal Violence, Corruption and Women’s Reservation have been pending for the past few years and have been brought to the House in every session. Expectedly, Parliament’s first week was washed out without any significant business being carrying out. If one goes by the mood of the political parties, the Lok Sabha is unlikely to pass any important bill except vote for an interim budget. The UPA and opposing soapbox oraters will keep blaming each other for making lawmaking hors de combat.
The growing election-eve confrontation between the ruling party and Opposition raises another important question on the partisan profanation of Parliament. Should the last Lok Sabha session be allowed to become a theatre to do business, which will help the ruling party to reap a harvest at the hustings? Wouldn’t it be prudent and politically correct to let the last session of every Lok Sabha transact minimum business and legislate only on emergency laws? Historically, last sessions have always been politically volatile, never ending without acrimonious debates and confrontations between the ruling and opposition benches. In a parliamentary democracy, the government gets five years in office. It spends its first year understanding the system, its second in policy formulation, the third implementing its policies, the fourth on consolidation and the fifth year distributing doles to win the next election. It is this final year which leads to the total breakdown of the legislative process.
But degeneration of parliamentary democracy hasn’t been confined to the last session. Ever since the nation slipped into the coalition era, in which even a single-member party plays an important role in the government’s survival, Parliament has failed to stick to its agenda for governance and legislation. The current Lok Sabha has sat for over 2,000 hours in five years. But it has lost over 800 hours in disruptions, which means four out of 10 hours have been wasted in bobbery and attacking one another on the floor of the House. If the disruptions were based on real issues, they would have served the purpose of healthy democratic discussion. But most have been confined to insignificant issues. In an era of competitive politics, each party has been disrupting Parliament in order to address its own constituency. For example, the first week of the last session was lost because regional parties weren’t allowing the House to take up any national issue. With the Congress unwilling to rein its members, just half a dozen MPs in the 542-member House could force presiding officers to adjourn Parliament for a full day. As a result of frequent adjournments and bombilations, even the number of starred questions to be answered by ministers has shown a sharp decline from 87 in the third session to just 11 in the Winter Session. The number of unstarred questions fell from over 7,000 to just 3,500. According to Lok Sabha sources, the disruption is thanks to the deteriorating quality of questions submitted by various MPs to the secretariat. Indian Parliament has defied the natural biological law of maturity. Instead of turning into a wise and mature institution, it is being converted into an instrument of destroying faith in the parliamentary system. The fault lies not only with picayune leaders with mighty egos but also with the voters who elect its members. The erosion of Parliament’s credibility reflects the weakening control of an ineffective leadership. After all, people are getting the government they deserve.
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, February 3, 2014

In Singles Match for TOP JOB ..... Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/February 02, 2014

In Singles Match for Top Job, Only Mixed Doubles Will Decide Government Formation





Who will become the Prime Minister in May 2014? No prospective aspirant has an answer. But one thing is indubitable. Only the singles at the helm of states will anoint one among them as Indian democracy’s next Moghul. If opinion polls and drawing room gossip are any indications, only a single by status will become India’s Prime Minister. If one goes by the list of probables and others who would matter in the finals, not a single married politician’s name figures, even as a dark horse. The BJP was the first party to announce NaMo, a single man, as its choice for the top job. It was for the second time that the saffron party opted for a singular single after Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Other singles such as West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar (widower) and even BSP President Mayawati are projected as likely occupants of 7 Race Course Road. Finally, the 120-year-old Congress party has also chosen its young, single inheritor Rahul Gandhi to pick up the gauntlet on its behalf. Indians are looking for single saviours among its politicians. Since over 60 per cent of voters are single, the names of leaders reflect their natural choice. Earlier, too, three other singles—Jayalalithaa, Mamata and Naveen Patnaik—decided the fate of India’s first single PM. While they were instrumental in Vajpayee being elected the PM, they were equally responsible for his fall.

Both the BJP and Congress are convinced that their single leaders will make it to South Block’s best-appointed room. But as the line from Macbeth goes “to make assurance doubly sure”, both parties are busy wooing other singles to support their bachelor leaders. There is no doubt that the combination of singles is awesome. Opinion polls and surveys project that they will collectively or individually dictate the choice and character of the next government in Delhi. The arithmetic is arresting: between the four of them, they are likely to garner around 130 seats. Modi-led NDA is expected to get a maximum of 210 seats. Unless two of the four singles with over 50 seats support Modi, he can’t become the PM even if his charisma earns the BJP the largest single party tag. Only a mixed doubles will decide the game of government formation. The BJP and its supporters are heavily dependent on Jayalalithaa to bail them out. The AIADMK legion has already announced that it would like to see its leader installed in 7 RCR. Last year, TMC had announced that Mamata cannot be ruled out as India’s supreme ruler. If Modi can’t achieve his mission, Rahul would have to turn to the same singles for escorting him to the swearing in at Raisina Hill. This can happen only if the Congress wins enough seats to attract an ally after the election. Surprisingly, Rahul and Modi may have caught the imagination of new and young voters to a certain extent, but both have miserably failed to charm the powerful singletons who control the keys to the PM’s office. Both contenders have hardly been in direct touch with members of the singles club. Barring a few photo-ops that NaMo got with Jayalalithaa, the two leaders have not been seen even making political overtures to other singles together. According to political analysts, it is for the first time in India’s democratic politics that personal egos and their vice-like grip over their respective organisations has made Indian political calculations unstable and unpredictable. With Mamata, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa and Patnaik keeping their cards close to their chests, Indian chatterati and foreign market manipulators are hedging their bets on the contours of the future dispensation.
The problem with foreign-educated and FII-funded experts is that they have failed to understand the political mindset of those who have risen from the grassroots, or through massive and traumatic inner party struggles, or simply nurtured in an elite-dominated social hierarchy. Mayawati and Mamata were ignored by the highly class and pedigree-conscious establishment. The two singles were the original architects of the aam aadmi paradigm, raising their outfits from scratch to acquire the status of queen or kingmaker. Jayalalithaa was humiliated by rootless satraps of her party after MGR’s death. She revived the AIADMK through sheer hard work and ideological differentiation. Only Patnaik entered politics with a degree and pedigree. But he learnt faster than his father Biju Patnaik and decimated his opponents with beguiling charisma. All of them are leaders of the parties they created themselves, which sustained their acceptability. While there is no ideological commonality between these four singles, each has his or her own political priorities and views on the political Carte du Tendre and would like to dictate not only the choice of the next PM, but the agenda for governance as well. At the moment, they have not been in dialogue with one another about any future coalition. But they have made it clear that they would like to instal a non-NDA and non-Congress government at the Centre. But consistency has never been a politician’s virtue.
In contrast to self-made regional satraps, both Modi and Rahul have inherited huge organisational support from their respective parties. Modi has added value to BJP with his outstanding performance as Gujarat chief minister. But without the BJP he may not get even one-fourth of the votes, which the party is capable of winning. Rahul’s situation is a little better as the Congress sans a Gandhi is an old Ambassador car without fuel. But a single difference—neither leader possesses the disarming charm or the smiling silence of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to win friends and influence enemies. Even Vajpayee was ejected from his office by the force of these singles.
Prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, January 27, 2014

Given their political DNA, to segue RaGa and NaMo's..... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/January 26, 2014

Given Their Political DNA, to Segue RaGa and NaMo's 'I' into 'We' Will be a Tall Order




The slogan is impressive in its modesty. It seeks votes by invoking the team spirit. This week, all newspapers carried a Congress advertisement with the slogan, “Main Nahi, Hum (Not Me, but We)” with a picture of Rahul Gandhi as the fugleman in front of a group of young voters from all communities. It was a straight lift from a NaMo Chintan Shivir of 2011. Perhaps the ad agency, which planned RaGa’s high-voltage promotional blitz, failed to do its homework. But the sheer similarity between the thinking of the two prime ministerial aspirants underlined their compulsion to project themselves as the sole team leaders. Both have been perceived as loners who inhabit vertiginous eyries perched high above anyone who garners votes and mobilises public opinion. Both extol the virtues of ‘We’ but practice the ‘I’ mantra. Of late, NaMo has been a mixed mass metaphor, grandiloquent in his humility, choosing to extol his modest background and OBC caste status than his impressive track record as Gujarat chief minister. Yet, hardly anyone knows the names of Team Modi members. His team begins with NaMo and ends with NaMo. RaGa is no different. He has confined himself to a fortress-like residence populated by unknown and inexperienced techies from affluent families, whose association with the reality of politics is anything but accidental. In Ahmedabad too, BJP officebearers and even ministers are rarely allowed entry to Modi’s well-guarded house.

It’s the ‘I’ in these individuals which dominates political discourse, narrative and choice of compadres. Both aspire to become the Prime Minister of a billion-strong India but ignore those who could facilitate their victory better. All promotional material are dominated by their pictures, sans those who have also achieved success and a reputation through performance. The BJP owes its over half-a-dozen governments to the sterling reputation of charismatic chief ministers and state party chiefs. It would have been nowhere in the reckoning if leaders like Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje Scindia, Raman Singh, Manohar Parikkar, Sushil Kumar Modi, Harsh Vardhan, Rajnath Singh et al had not displayed their organisational and administrative acumen. Yet, none of them find a place of prominence in Modi’s election strategy, which has been left to marketing agencies and a few others. If Modi is today the country’s most favoured PM candidate, it has much to do with the good governance provided by other BJP chief ministers. Their popularity drives the all-circumjacent popular embrace of Modi. Except calling them for customary meetings of party forums, none of the chief ministers are involved in planning Battle 2014. Even at the recently held National Executive Council Meeting in Delhi, none of them were asked to move any resolution. CMs like Chouhan and Parrikar have performed much better than Modi in many areas. If Modi means Hum (We) as his mantra, all election material would have carried a combined picture of the CMs. Imagine the impact it would have on voters, if Modi, in the company of a phalanx of saffron heroes, sought the vote in the name of all BJP CMs and showed India that he could lead a team of movers and shakers with proven track records. The BJP ranks have many highly successful former ministers like Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, but both are ignored by the party. The party’s decision-making bodies are filled with either geriatrics or honchos who have never won an election, let alone lead a state unit to victory. The seniority or financial clout of an individual in the BJP gets priority over merit and the ability to win an election. They are the ones who claim to be the invisible part of Team ‘Hum’.
The situation in the Congress is worse. It has the largest attroupement of stellar CMs and Cabinet ministers, but they are not portrayed as part of the ‘We’ team which Rahul swears by. Chief ministers like Oommen Chandy, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Siddaramaiah and Tarun Gogoi are known for their responsive governance and better delivery mechanisms on many parameters than their BJP counterparts. They also know how to win an election and carry their teams along. Chandy, for example, leads a precarious coalition government in Kerala, which could collapse if just two MLAs choose to defect. He has been able to keep UDF allies and warring Congress factions together. However, when it came to giving the CMs due credit at the recently held AICC session in New Delhi, the Congress party focused only on Rahul. Most of the present Congress CMs have got rave reviews about their performance by various government and non-government agencies like the Planning Commission and Reserve Bank of India. While the BJP and other parties don’t lose an opportunity to assail the Congress, the ruling party has never exploited the success of its state governments. The Congress rarely projects its CMs as the ones who have fulfilled most of the party promises in the state elections. Most of them are only used for fundraising and not for mobilisation of voters and workers. They are summoned to New Delhi as vassals to be given orders or to be gibbeted for the party’s bad performance in their states. But they are never patted on the back for keeping the party’s pennant flying in their states. Rahul appears to be in a hurry to change the Congress culture of sycophancy. But he is still sticking to the age-old Congress system of stateless and rootless leaders deciding the fate of popular state leaders. He has taken charge but hasn’t yet been able to jettison those who have lost their relevance and utility in the party. As the stopwatch for the Lok Sabha elections unwinds in an inexorable cycle of political karma, both NaMo and RaGa suffer from an existential dilemma. How to segue ‘I’ into ‘We’? Keeping in view their political DNA, it’s a tall order. As Othello said, “to beguile many, but be beguiled by one”, but both politicians are beguiled only by the idea of themselves.
Prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, January 13, 2014

US must realise that India can be a Friend ..... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/January 12, 2014

US Must Realise that India Can be a Friend, Only as an Equal and Not as a Follower




Agonised apologists for America are in angst over the angry objurgation against American arrogance over L’affaire Devyani Khobragade. Ever since the Indian government showed some spine by retaliating against the US government, America’s Indian megaphones are rising in fortissimo to counter the orchestra of domestic disgust. For them, money is more important than national pride. The class that adores the colour of the greenback over respect for the Tricolour are asking fustian questions like “Is Devyani more important than the Indo-US relationship?” In their lucre-driven bombilations, they have chosen to forget that Devyani, a Dalit diplomat, was representing her country and was not just some individual the Indian government had dispatched to the US. Forget amor patriae, an obstreperous campaign is on to undermine her reputation and underplay the colossal insult to the prestige of Indian state by a petty American official. As Devyani returned home in disguised disgrace, the government hit back by asking a US diplomat to be recalled. He was the one instrumental in getting Devyani’s maid Sangeeta Richard’s family ‘evacuated’ from their own country—India.

While Devyani was declared persona non grata, US authorities remained silent about the behaviour of her nanny and her family members who entered the US to avoid facing Indian courts. The inexplicably imperious US posturing on Devyani hides more than what it reveals. Otherwise both countries wouldn’t have adopted an eyeball-to-eyeball stance. It is perhaps for the first time that both India and the US have expelled diplomats in concert. Such an exceptional row comes at a stage when they were perceived as allies in global economic and strategic issues. For the past two decades, India has been bending backwards to mend its ways and means to suit American corporate and strategic interests. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the only Head of State who has made the maximum number of trips during his two terms to the US than any of his peers. American diplomats in India were given exceptional waivers to open schools, clubs, import luxury goods and even employ Indians without following Indian laws. The American Embassy in New Delhi was shown the magnanimity of blocking the road behind it in the name of security, while the Indian Embassy in Washington was even denied two parking spots. American diplomats have been enjoying special facilities at various airports in India, unlike Indian diplomats in the US. American Embassy staff were given passes to enter official areas where even senior civil servants, ministers and chief ministers could not tread. The Indian Prime Minister and Union ministers have been liberal in granting visiting US junior diplomats an audience. But for our ministers, getting an appointment with even a Secretary in the US government, let alone President Obama, would be unthinkable. The UPA has been so eager to oblige America that it even risked a fall by getting the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement passed, facing charges of political misconduct.
If that wasn’t enough, the Indian government went out of its way to save American companies from sinking during the economic recession by placing huge orders on capital equipment. America has been treating India as a bespoke colony, expecting Indians to surrender their self-respect. Since India opened up its economy to become a global player, it has been granting American companies preference over multinationals from other countries. During the past 10 years, India has placed orders worth `50,000 crore with US corporations for defence equipment and aircraft. India is America’s largest but unreciprocated trade partner. It has invested over $60 billion in US treasury bonds, thereby becoming America’s 17th largest investor. Even on international issues, the UPA would invite the ire of its domestic constituencies by supporting US policy on Sri Lanka and Iran. Indian corporate Caesars have been liberal in funding American academia with millions of dollars, which they rarely do for Indian institutions. In America they perceive a natural ally who would fight against terror, dictatorships and communist expansionism for mutual benefit. Indians of American-origin contribute bounteously to parties during the US elections.
The Devyani episode has proved that America preaches democracy and peace but practices dictatorship and exclusivity. Anyone who questions their arbitrariness and arrogance would be treated as an enemy. Even after extracting maximum economic flesh from India, no American company or the US government has shown even a minor interest in protecting India’s dignity and security. In reality, they have been supporting the anti-India forces in our neighbourhood, closing their eyes against terror camps in Pakistan and imposing strict conditions on the immigration of Indian skilled labour to the US. They are tight-fisted while investing in India. According to official records, the cumulative FDI equity inflow into India was just $2 million until September 2013. About 20 per cent of it went to the services sector. Americans have refused to transfer technology and invest in immovable assets but are insisting on extremely liberal tax policies for their FIIs so that they could fatten their coffers by playing the markets.
Yet India has been magnanimous towards America. But the way they treated Devyani proves beyond any doubt that US policymakers are uncomfortable with India’s rise as an economic and military super power, which could challenge their supremacy one day. They have perhaps forgotten former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who always showed them their place, whether it was over China or Pakistan. The US may have infiltrated the Indian establishment but it has wounded the heart of India. For Indians, protecting the prestige of the Tricolour is a matter of faith, which cannot be compromised by showering a bounty of dollars on a chosen few. The time has come for America to realise that India can be a friend, only as an equal and not as a follower.
Prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, January 6, 2014

History will Record Singh as King .....Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/January 05, 2014

History Will Record Singh as King Who Couldn't Do Justice to Stature of Chair He Occupied





All’s well that ends well, goes the adage. But in PM Manmohan Singh’s case, it has lost its original meaning. He claimed history would judge him differently and mercifully. Instead, he found a place in contemporary chronicles of independent India as the first incumbent PM to announce his retirement, six months ahead of the end of his term. There is no last date in the calendar of a political leader. Manmohan is an exception. He is the second PM to complete two consecutive terms in office after Jawaharlal Nehru. His other record is holding only three press conferences during these terms. He is also the first PM to survive two terms without his party having a majority in Lok Sabha. When during his press interaction he claimed that surviving in office for 10 years in a coalition era was one of his achievements, he wasn’t far off the mark. But he skirted mentioning the cost he and the nation paid for the compromises struck to keep his allies on UPA’s ramshackle raft. The speech, however, made it evident that Manmohan is not one of those leaders who would give credit for his success to teammates and take blame for failures. He blamed every institution, individual and ideology for his government’s dismal record. His voluntary retirement as CEO of one billion-strong India is the tragic saga of the fall of a puissant prophet who promised a mountain but couldn’t deliver a mole. A darling of the middle class and an iconic messiah for India Inc in 2004, Singh is now seen as foe in 2014. If the tone and content of his media meet were any indication, the PM came across an angry old man. His personal attack on BJP’s PM candidate Narendra Modi reflected his personal hurt and frustration.

If Manmohan’s 75-minute encounter with journalists was meant to salvage his and his government’s sagging image, it failed to achieve the objective. The impression given was that the nation is left with a caretaker PM who wouldn’t be able to take any firm decision for the rest of his term. Even while recounting achievements, the PM was studiously selective with facts. For example, he claimed the UPA government was able to deliver a record GDP growth during the past nine years. As an economist, he knew what sort of statistics would paint a rosy picture. But he forgot that when he took over, the economy had grown by over 8 per cent during the last year of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime. But when Manmohan would demit office, India’s economic growth would be less than 5 per cent. On every other sector, UPA’s performance is disastrous. The agriculture sector has plummeted to 4.80 per cent against 9 per cent during the last year of NDA government. Worse, manufacturing growth rate has fallen from 7.32 per cent to 1.50 per cent. Much more ridiculous was Manmohan’s justification for his government’s bad economic performance. He blamed global factors for influencing Indian economic indicators. The same PM had claimed that it was due to his government’s robust policies that India ducked global recession in 2008. If India was insulated in 2008, why did it fail in 2013? The PM and his foreign-educated economic advisers couldn’t explain. Even on inflation, UPA’s track record is worse than that of NDA. It was just 3.8 per cent (CPI) in 2004 as against nearly 10 per cent in 2013. Despite massive expenditure on welfare schemes such as MGNREGS, aimed at creating assets in the rural sector, the rate of capital formation fell drastically from 13.6 per cent in 2004 to 2.5 per cent during 2013.
Consistency has never been a  virtue of our politicians; even less so for an accidental PM like Manmohan. The only consistent factor has been his personal integrity and nothing else. But Manmohan has been seeking scapegoats for the collapse of his decision-making process. His first tenure, though controversial, had a mission. He stuck his neck out on the Indo-US nuclear deal, which, however, is yet to yield the fruits it promised. His second tenure could well be defined as a government sans an agenda, vision, mission or message. It has been a period during which retaining power at any cost was the only objective. In his endeavour to hold on to office, he had the Gandhi Parivar’s full support. When Manmohan made the frank confession that he was willing to reverse government decisions if instructions—or even a suggestion—came from any Gandhi family member, it was only to retain his seat for the rest of his term. The Gandhi Parivar has realised that Manmohan as the post-2014 PM candidate would further destroy the Congress’s ability to save itself from a predictable rout. Just a few weeks ago, Sonia Gandhi had declared that the party would announce its PM candidate before the General Elections. It was a clear signal to Manmohan; one which prematurely forced him to announce his withdrawal from the A-list while he was still in office. Rahul Gandhi had summoned all Congress CMs and key Union ministers to discuss future administrative and policy decisions to be taken by the Central and state governments, but the PM wasn’t even invited. All these moves were aimed at formally anointing Rahul as Manmohan’s replacement before the countdown to the elections formally begins. By paving way for a smooth succession, the PM would go down in Indian political history as one who faithfully kept the throne warm for the scion of a family that chose him over others who were much better qualified than him. Manmohan has left it to posterity to judge his stint as India’s PM. But history would be as cruel to him as his party and fair weather friends have been. Many of his detractors speculate that in the annals of time, Manmohan’s name would be recorded as the king who diminished the stature of the chair, which he occupied for a decade.
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla