Blog | How Media-Politics killed Manmohan Singh
This article was published in The Viewspaper
In 2010, Newsweek magazine recognized Manmohan Singh as a world leader who is respected by other heads of state, describing him as “the leader other leaders love.” The article quoted Mohamed ElBaradei (former Director General of the IAEA and a Nobel Laureate who was instrumental in the Egyptian rebellion leading to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 ) who remarked that Dr. Singh is “the model of what a political leader should be.” Singh is number 18 on the 2010 Forbes list of the world’s most powerful people. Forbes magazine described Singh as being “universally praised as India’s best prime minister since Nehru”
I bet you had not heard all these in the news ever before! I am not surprised. But let me start from the beginning.
Once upon a time there was a government assembled by an alliance called NDA. When it came to power, the promises it had made, made it look like a desi version of Santa Clause himself! (NDA election manifesto) However, when one reads between the lines and tries to locate the concrete objectives, it is difficult to locate even any straws to hold on to between the clouds of vague long-tongued promises. There might have been a few objective ones thrown here and there…but then needless to say, they were either unfulfilled entirely or remained works “in progress”.. See it for yourself!
When the entire country’s political experts were again tipping NDA to make the next government, out popped the surprise from the bag! Voila! It was the UPA calling the shots! The alliance is in its 8th year of power having scaled two elections and having made a steady progress to propel the country ahead.However, now when the media circus is crying wolf about the UPA, some experts are again tipping the NDA to come to the so called rescue! Wow!
But what I want to know is what do the people really want? A loud harping ministry that promises diamonds and leaves you with peanuts? Or a government that goes about quietly doing the job amidst all the storm and despite the criticism of being a lack-luster government just because there isn’t a satisfactory amount of verbal outlets?
No, I am not saying the BJP and the NDA did not achieve anything. Of course they did. They won us the Kargill War. Or in other words, they were foolish enough to not see it coming while the Pak troops lined up at the same time as Mr. Vajpayee (who I feel is the of the few countable leaders in the BJP worthy of respect) went about gifting Pakistan an assortment of gifts from cooperation pacts to cross border bus rides (and some Pakistani fans might even argue a glimpse of their beloved Dev Anand in Pakistan!). Then it gave us nuclear power. Then left us in the lurch by signing no treaty whatsoever with any organisation or country to support us on our new found nuclear status which actually happens to be a thorn in the eye of other countries! Then months within this, Pakistan bought its own set of nuclear kitty (thanks to China, North Korea and the gang) and we could only grind our teeth.
Damnit! We spent years developing it! All they did was buy it?? Why couldn’t we think of it??
However, in neither of the two cases above, did the NDA do anything special! Neither did the government go to the border to fight the Pak troops nor did it spend years in the lab trying to capture neutrons. It’s safe to conclude that any government in that place would have come up with the same results as it was only in a supervisory role. (Well…at least arguably so!)
Although the hallmark of the NDA rule stands in the successful completion of at least one major milestone: successful surgeries on Atal Bihar Vajapyee’s knee troubles! Yes! They were successfully and ably carried out by the country’s best surgeons and unquestionably stand out as at least the one thing that got completed in the same term of power and wasn’t left for the next term when it was presumed the NDA would again come to power! I wonder what would have happened if it suffered the same fate as the Golden Quadrilateral Project that the NDA had also promised…. That would’ve been a shameful riot! (Yeah… you could say shameful things like the Godhra riots, which happened to be in a state and a country both led by the BJP.) Given the government was on ‘weak knees’ (pun intended, you bet!), thank the Lord for its completion!
If only they had included it in their manifesto as well!
The BJP may be the biggest booing party in the opposition today. But most of the injury is brought about by the media. Not without reason though. Tell me, how many of you would go to watch a movie that had the biggest of stars but a simple story of a happy, well-to-do family that sings, eats and lives happily ever after? And how many of you would go to watch another movie with never-before-seen newcomers playing out a dark, mysterious script with lots of twists, scandals and controversies? The answer is obvious, right? When everything is happy and expected, there isn’t much fun. So if the news media goes on showing all goody-goody things about the government, how will it ever get those eyeballs?Controversies = high TRP’s. So, even if there isn’t much fire, you still see a lot of smoke in every news bulletin. It’s like they don’t want you to get away from your TV screens! It’s very obvious that you won’t watch the news channels with the same intent and interest if they showed what the government had been achieving. Everybody loves a scandal, don’t they. So go on, call the PM weak. What can be bigger gossip than that? Tell me though, on what ground do you call the PM weak?
So, what did the UPA government do that I am so adamant about its performance?? If the news channels were to be believed what stands out as the biggest underline of the UPA regime is the 2G spectrum scam. Well, before you even contemplate the thought, feed on this:
During the NDA government, there was a major controversy when telecom companies were allowed to move from a licensing regime to a revenue-sharing one. The sudden removal of Jagmohan from the post of communications minister in 1998 was reportedly a consequence of his refusal to toe the line of a section within his government. In July 1999, following the recommendation of a Group of Ministers headed by Jaswant Singh, the fixed license fee regime was changed to a revenue sharing one. This was adversely commented on by the CAG.
According to Ratan Tata, if a hypothetical amount was to be calculated at that point of time, the loss to the exchequer would be about Rs. 50,000 crore, thanks to the NDA‘s new autocratic move.
Other ministers for communications during the NDA regime, including the late Pramod Mahajan, were accused of assisting Reliance Infocomm to become a nationwide operator offering “full mobility” in its cellular phone operations without paying the full license fee. This decision of the DoT was against TRAI recommendations and the resultant loss to the exchequer was said to be in the region of 1,100 crore. However, the sheer size of
the subsequent undervaluation and misallocation of spectrum makes the earlier scandals pale into relative insignificance.” And for a full story of the 2G spectrum gatha, do visit this page.
Of course the reaper would look bad with the rotten crop. He deserves that! But, then don’t forget the guy who sowed the seeds! I can’t really recall the term used for the behaviour of the BJP leaders who have been lashing the current regime on the issue, while conveniently suppressing and drifting away from the reality of having given the controversy the womb to take birth in. Ummm… what’s the word… anyway… you must’ve got it.
Having said that, the UPA government has not been an out and out hit. It has had some major scams and controversies… but let us not forget to first find the roots of these events and then decide if it all was really the fault of the “UPA government” or some crooked ministers who bring a bad name to the entire government. Let us not forget that we are a land of coalition governments, besides festivals, colours, cultures, delicacies, sarees and elephants. As
the honourable PM had remarked, such a government has its complexities. An issue that may be favourable for the rest of the country might not be favourable (for various reasons) for a region/regional party. So when it comes to the decision, all the views of all the parties that make the government have to be taken into account, including the one that opposes the vote while also supporting the government with its MP’s. Had we been a truly federal country with autonomous states, we might not have had this problem. But things are as they are.
Despite this, the UPA has done well. At least, well enough not to be called a ‘weak’
government! For all those who take pleasure in terming Manmohan Singh weak, try jogging your memories and switching back to the time when the Nuclear Deal with the US was making headlines daily. At the time when the Left threatened to withdraw support to the UPA, it was our PM who refused to budge from his stand and fought the battle out with the Left parties and took the deal through.
An alliance broke, politicians vocally opposed, yet a government sustained and the deal stayed. Is that weak?
When Vajpayee was blackmailed by his supporting parties, he spent every third month visiting either Mamta Bannerjee or Jayalalitha to try and convince them to not withdraw support. Did Manmohan ever do such a thing? Singh dared the Left’s threats and went on to do what was right. The government did not collapse.
Today, the daughter of the leader of the party that supports his government is in jail with an ex minister of his cabinet from the same party.Have your seen such a headline about a government formed by support of coalition parties? Is that weak?
The Prime Minister even agreed to get questioned by an investigative committee working to resolve a scnadal – something that no other Prime Minister had ever done. Is that weak?
Few people give Manmohan Singh the credit for ending India’s generation-long isolation in the Nuclear World. A Reuters post read “Manmohan Singh dares the Left on the Nuclear Deal“! So while theinternational press (link1, link2) hailed Singh for his strong stand on the matter, our local counterparts preferred to keep the pot boiling. BJP’s attitude was again hilariously outrageous! First while the deal was being argued, the BJP went on citing the most laughable reasons why it should not be passed. Once the deal was given a go ahead, the BJP leaders came out saying that it was their party that had initiated the deal and that the present government only continued their good work! The media telecasts the comments and views of such shaky leaders!
What on earth was the Left crying about? They made such a chaos saying that the UPA was giving away our constitutional sovereignty to the US. But how exactly? Did they ever mention that? What did the Left care about the constitution? When it came into existence after independence, the Left did so saying that it does not believe in the constitutional provisions and that it would shackle the roots of the constitution. Now, during the Nuclear Deal talks, it was playing a saviour to the same constitution? Such a change of heart! For no personal gain! Oh, I am moved to tears!
If you really want to know what the Nuclear Deal is all about, check it out yourself.
The re-alignment of Indian foreign policy under the leadership of Manmohan Singh has helped India develop the best relations with the USA since 1947. Positive ripples are evident in the increased encouragement of the US to incorporate Indian views on the developments in the subcontinent, something that Pakistan has openly expressed reservation with.
News channels have time and again said that Manmohan Singh is weak and powerless. However, did they ever report his responses to such allegations? This is what Mr. Singh had said in the Parliament in response to L.K. Advani’s claims that Manmohan Singh is weak: “He has the unique ability to combine strength in speech with weakness in action… Mr Advani likes to call me a weak Prime Minister. I cannot help pointing out that when held to the fire during the Kandahar hijacking, the BJP’s ‘Iron Man’ was quick to melt… He agreed to release the terrorists and subjected his Cabinet colleague Shri Jaswant Singh to the humiliation of having to personally escort the terrorists to their safe haven.”
Even if you check his background, Manmohan Singh’s profile will stand out as the most illustrous one among all the Prime Ministers that we have had till date. He attended Punjab University, Chandigarh, studying Economics and got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1952 and 1954, respectively,standing first throughout his academic career. He won the Wright’s Prize for distinguished performance twice in 1955 and 1957. He was also one of the few recipients of the Wrenbury scholarship. In 1962, Singh completed his studies from the University of Oxford where he was a member of Nuffield College. The title of his doctoral thesis was “India’s export performance, 1951–1960, export prospects and policy implications” and his thesis supervisor was Dr. I.M.D. Little. This thesislater grew into the book “India’s Export Trends and Prospects for Self-Sustained Growth”.
In 1997, the University of Alberta awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Law degree. TheUniversity of Oxford awarded him an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree in July 2005, and in October 2006, the University of Cambridge followed with the same honour. In 2008, he was awarded honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Benaras Hindu University and later that year he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by University of Madras. In 2010, he was awardedhonorary doctorate degree by King Saud University.
After completing his Ph.D., Singh worked for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) from 1966–1969. During the 1970s, he taught at the University of Delhi andworked for the Ministry of Foreign Trade with the former Cabinet Minister for Foreign Trade, Lalit Narayan Mishra. As the Minister of Foreign Trade, Lalit Narayan Mishra was one of the first to recognize Singh’s talent as an economist and appointed him his advisor at the Ministry of Foreign Trade.
In 1982, he was appointed the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India and held the post until 1985. He went on to become the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission of India from 1985 to 1987. Following his tenure at the Planning Commission, he was Secretary General of the South Commission, an independent economic policy think tank headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland from 1987 to 1990. He has several other awards and felicitations to his name, including the Padma Vibhushan back in 1987.
I dare anyone who criticizes him to bring forth any other Indian Prime Minister who would remotely match either his illustrious profile or his humility despite it! (I bet none of you would even consider a single member from the crop of leaders we have today!)
In 1991, India’s Prime Minister at the time, P.V. Narasimha Rao, chose Singh to be his Finance Minister. At this time, India’s fiscal deficit was close to 8.5 per cent of the gross domestic product (today it is estimated around 4.6%), the balance of payments deficit was huge and the current account deficit was close to 3.5 percent of India’s GDP (which is in the same region despite the natural calamities and the amount of development). India’s foreign reserves barely amounted to USD$1 billion, enough to pay for a few weeks of imports, in comparison to USD$283 billion today.
Singh carried out economic reforms in India in 1991, during his tenure as the Finance Minister, from 1991 to 1996. These reforms resulted in the end of the License Raj system, helping to open the Indian economy to greater international trade and investment. He is the only Prime Minister since Jawaharlal Nehru to return to power after completing a full five-year term.
Talk about his brilliance as an economist: If one has a look at how the country’s GDP had been growing under various governments since Manmohan Singh assumed office as the Finance Minister in 1991, it will be crystal clear as to who has done what. “It is a matter of great concern that during BJP regime the GDP growth slowed down substantially 1998 to 2003. Congress once again revived the economy between 2004 and 2008.” While the GDP was suffering at the region of 3% growth in the early 1990′s, today it can boast of a growth that will soon touch double figures in the few years to come. And in these past 20 years, Singh has been in the Cabinet for 13 years! In praise of Singh’s work that pushed India towards a market economy, long-time Cabinet minister P. Chidambaram has referred to Singh as the Deng Xiaoping of India. Under Singh, the Indian economy has grown with an 8–9% economic growth rate. In 2007, India achieved its highest GDP growth rate of 9% and became the second fastest growing major economy in the world.
As far as inflation is concerned, I agree that, that situation was too bad. But what you should realize is that this was an after effect of the global recession where India escaped almost unharmed while here were countries declaring themselves bankrupt! This amount of inflation was already expected.Countries congratulated the government here and adopted our model to get stable! Would that be possible with a no-show government and a weak PM?
Despite the fact that Singh had never won a Lok Sabha seat, he “has enjoyed massive popular support, not least because he was seen by many as a clean politician untouched by the taint of corruption that has run through many Indian administrations.” So what could the opposition do now to bring down a person who could not be trapped in any objective way possible? Let’s call him a weak leader and that should be enough, they must’ve thought. Why? Just because he was not the Prime Ministerial candidate of the Congress? But wait! Why would Sonia Gandhi, a Prime Ministerial Candiate, give up the chair after having managed a surprising victory? Why would anyone give up the most important post in the country? Neither Sonia Gandhi nor Manmohan Singh was an idiot to have done what they did. Don’t you think they must have expected the cries of “weak puppets” from the opposition? Do you really think they
were that dumb?
Singh has admitted that he does not speak a lot. “I am not a sloganeer. I will readily concede that most of my opponents make more rousing speeches. They have more catchy phrases and may run better marketing campaigns…”
However, he has also promised not lack of action when needed. … unlike the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate (L.K.Advani), I will not be found weeping in a corner while hoodlums tear down a centuries-old mosque. Nor will I be found wringing my hands in frustration while one of my Chief Ministers condones a pogrom targeted at minorities.”
Never heard these words before? Never seen them in the news channels?
A weak man cannot survive in politics. Not for twenty years!
A weak man cannot hold the chair of the Prime Minister.
A weak man cannot be only the second Prime Minister to get re-elected to the office after successfully completing the first term!
When the opposing party comes to power in our country, the first thing it does is to stall the work which was being done by the party earlier in power. Singh, instead chose to continue certain projects and improvise on them to save people from suffering. Be it the Golden Quadrilateral Project or the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, his positives do not fall short of count. In 2005, Prime Minister Singh and his government’s health ministry started the National Rural Health Mission, which has mobilised half a million community health workers. This rural health initiative was praised by the American economistJeffrey Sachs. Singh has announced that eight more IIT’s will be opened in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Orissa, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh.
NIA was also created soon after the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks as need for a central agency to combat terrorism was realised. Also Unique Identification Authority of India was established in February 2009, an agency responsible for implementing the envisioned Multipurpose National Identity Card (UID Card) with the objective of increasing national security and facilitating e-governance.
His government has also been criticized for not being able to reduce the Naxal terrorism that is menacing rural areas in Eastern and Central India. Singh’s government has, however, extended the ban on the radical Islamic terror group Student’s Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and has been the first government to launch an armed attack to directly combat the naxal problem in the country.Singh’s administration initiated a massive reconstruction effort in Kashmir to stabilize the region but after some period of success, insurgent infiltration and terrorism in Kashmir has increased since 2009. However, the Singh administration has been successful in reducing terrorism in Northeast India.
While the effectiveness of the NREGA has been successful at various degrees, in various regions, the RTI act has proved crucial in India’s fight against corruption.
Exchange of high-level visits by top leaders from India and Pakistan have highlighted his tenure, as hasreduced terrorism and increased prosperity in the state of Kashmir. With reference to relations with China, major development in Sino-Indian relations was the reopening of the Nathula Pass in 2006 after being closed for more than four decades. As of 2010, the People’s Republic of China is the second biggest trade partner of India. Relations with Afghanistan have also improved considerably, with India now becoming the largest regional donor to Afghanistan.
Singh’s government has worked towards stronger ties with the United States. Relations have improved with Japan and European Union countries, like the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Relations with Iran have continued and negotiations over the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline have taken place. Relations have improved with other developing countries, particularly Brazil and South Africa. Singh carried forward the momentum which was established after the “Brasilia Declaration” in 2003 and the IBSA Dialogue Forum was formed. Manmohan Singh’s government has also been especially keen on expanding ties with Israel. Since 2003, the two countries have made significant investments in each other and Israel now rivals Russia to become India’s defense partner.
Singh has always been perceived as a man of clean background with high intellect. He is seen as aman of few words. The Independent described him as “one of the world’s most revered leaders” and “a man of uncommon decency and grace,” noting that he drives a Maruti 800, one of the humblest cars in the Indian market. Eminent writer Khushwant Singh lauded Dr. Singh as the best Prime Minister India has had, even rating him higher than Jawaharlal Nehru.
(He mentions an incident in his book ‘Absolute Khushwant: The Low-Down on Life, Death and Most things In-between’ where after losing the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, Singh immediately returned the 2 lakh (US$4,500) he had borrowed from the writer for hiring taxis.) Terming him as the best example of integrity, Mr. Khushwant Singh stated, “When people talk of integrity, I say the best example is the man who occupies the country’s highest office.”
Singh has always been a man who acts instead of the man who speaks. Today, the AIDS control programme runs directly under the PM. Under his administration, an education cess has been levied in all central taxes to help primary education. Besides new IIT’s, new IIM’s have also come up and a few more are in the pipeline. It was his government that allowed International Universities to set their campuses in India to provide students with world class education. NCERT made to ensure uniformity in primary education being taught nationwide (this is relevant to the occasional uproar about “wrong” history being taught to students in certain parts of the country). The ever increasing pressure on students has been lowered thanks to the cancellation of Class X board exams.
Though the reservation for backward classes was allowed in the same era, number of seats were expanded to tap the adverse effects of reservation. Today, thanks to the initiative of UPA,Rs.1500-Laptops are being distributed in rural areas among the youth. Right to Education has been made a fundamental right. There is more FDI in the education sector. A long begging check on the “deemed” universities, followed by suspension of 44 universities made it impossible for “recognised” kitchen sized institutions to award fake degrees.
Following the policy of inclusion, banks have been asked to allow zero-balance accounts for students and people with low incomes. Banks have been made to relax their stand for educational loans. Insurance sector has managed to penetrate into the rural ravines where it is much needed. More states are now covered under the midday meal programme in primary schools and at lower costs. Check on the authentication of issued mobile numbers all over the country has been initiated to clip bogus numbers. Also the Mobile Number Portbility Scheme, flagged off by the Prime Minister himself that has come as a relief to crores of mobile phone subscribers across the country.
The Judiciary has not been as active as it is now under any other leadership. Supreme Court has given milestone verdicts and judgments that have gotten rid of several pending matters. To name a few, the SC passed judgments on euthanasia, homosexuality and attempt to suicide, among others. The SC and Cheif Justice of India have been time and again seen advising as well as questioning the government on different issues. Which other leadership allowed it such a free hand? The Ayodhya verdict was peacefully delivered during the tenure of the same man who has been termed weak! Why had the verdict been stalled for so many years, if
did have such able and strong leaders?
India’s step towards permanent seat in UNSC has gained major momentum. India refused to take loans and financial help from other countries to minimize the dues and become more independent even in the times of natural calamities.
The Singh administration has introduced 100% FDI in construction to improve infrastructure all over the country. Even when it comes to small things, the government has been spreading awareness about common things like MRP and Purchase receipts which do tremendous good in the long term and help reduce the burden on the people by freeing them from the vicious circle of tax. Even information about the medicines and the handy information customers can use to buy the right ones has been doing us all good.
And yeah! It gave our currency a much needed global symbol!
These are just the achievements of the man and his administration that I know of. There are bound to be many more direct and indirect influences. Of course, I am in no way saying that it negates the losses and ills of the scams that the country had to bear. But tell me, which government did not have scams and controversies?
Which government had 100% honest ministers who were saints and good samaritans and never indulged in any kind of ill act? Which government did not have to suffer the charges of corruption? And also tell me, which government has done as much good as this government?
So why do we judge our PM and his government only on the basis of the negatives? Just because the opposition wants us to? Or because the media has found it an easy way to scale TRP’s and mint fortunes? Why can’t we cut some slack and open our eyes to ALL the happenings – the positive ones too? As citizens of the country, we should be cooperating with the government
that is trying to work on all corners and in all areas to better the lives of its citizens. Is the qualification of Cabinet members not good enough to make us have faith in their judgements? Or do you feel that the opposition has better and abler candidates?
In this age of information and discovery where the world is opening its eyes to new things and matters unknown, the least that we can do is have our own judgment and not become sheep that can be led in any way that will benefit the one who leads it. My plea to all my fellow citizens of this country is not to be blind to the ills of this government…or any government for that matter; but to consider all the aspects of its tenure and not just focus on what is shown on news
channels. When we fill out forms for any school or college, we carefully research the internet and discuss things with our well wishers. When we buy water purifiers we take everybody’s opinion and do our bit of market research. In fact some people do not buy onions from the vegetable market before scanning the entire market for the best lot!
I guess choosing the right government and the right leader that will affect us and the rest of the country for at least five years to come, is more serious than these. Then why don’t we form our own opinion instead of taking the media’s rant as God’s gospel? Why don’t we sit
on the internet and do our research? Why don’t we discuss it with people? Most importantly, why don’t we first filter the authenticity and neutrality of the source that is giving us the information? And if we don’t, we don’t really have the moral right to call anyone weak or lame just because that is the buzz word!
As far as our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh is concerned, I have the highest respect and regards for the man and fully have faith in his actions. His greatness will one day be realised by all the world over and he shall become a proud medal for our nation. The least that I can say for him is that for me it is a matter of great blessing to have him as a Prime Minister. He does
not speak a lot. But then, actions speak louder than words. And it stands most true for the great man. However, having said that, it would not hurt me to hear more from him on matters that affect the country. Communication with the citizens is perhaps the first thing that he
should work on.
As far as the accusations of being weak are concerned, its nothing more than an eyewash being publicized by an opposition that is frustrated sitting out of power for a second term and has neither any other measure to confront this government nor has any achievements to edify its own cause. Sadly, this hullaballoo is being carried out through the media that was supposed to be the mirror for the society but has turned into a battleground hosting a TRP rat-race!
Before ending, allow me to quote another man I respect (who also happens to be very politically aware and very active when it comes to matters of social and mass welfare), actor Aamir Khan : “Manmohan Singh is not a weak prime minister, his silence should not be taken to
mean he is weak. He signed the 123 deal with the United States, that was his biggest achievement and it shows he is a strong person.”