Dr Manmohan Singh: An underground perennial

image courtesy: http://www.reuters.com/

I usually do not write about politics. However I can make an exception for Dr Manmohan Singh, because I have written about him in the past. Dr Manmohan Singh has been described as a political survivor by many journalists and editors.  Some have even described him as a weak prime minister, who has not risked taking ‘tough’ decisions.  I have keenly followed him ever since he became India’s Prime Minister (2004-2009) and even got a second term in 2009.  US president Barack Obama is another politician, who has been mentioned a few times here.  Keeping in with the tradition, I will continue to explore the links between them.

Leadership, as an entity is overrated all over the world.  Those who swear by ‘good leadership’ also tend to glorify ‘good work ethic’.  We (Indians) tend to downplay both and tend to invest in ‘skills’.  Some of you may point out the leadership is also a skill. Leadership, decision-making ability…all of these are abstract qualitative skills, which can be contested.  By skills I mean those that are physical and are earned through formal learning and hard work. We don’t mind low productivity and unreliability as long as something holds the potential to work like ‘magic’.  What is magic?  For all practical purposes “anything that shows glimpses of greatness but cannot sustain the same intensity when it is really needed” has to be ‘magic’ and some people might prefer the term ‘fluke’ to describe the same.

In a recent radio discussion broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR), Todd Purdum, editor of the magazine Vanity Fair, outlined the features of the Obama cabinet and the peril of increasingly ill-defined roles given to his team members. Dr Singh’s cabinet is no different.  With Pranab Mukherjee’s imminent departure from the cabinet, Dr Singh’s Titanic looks as though it is heading towards an iceberg.  Who will captain Dr Singh’s ship?  Oh, I am sorry. Isn’t he the captain?

While leadership is clearly overrated, I cannot believe how one can overlook Dr Singh’s real set of skills in economic theory and practice.  I do not share the cynicism of most middle class Indians and I do not want to tarnish all Indian politicians as corrupt and inhuman. However, I cannot sympathise with Dr Singh.  All these years, Dr Singh may have deserved the benefit of doubt.  In the beginning I was sceptical about his political acumen; however over the years I became convinced that he is a serious politician rather an underground perennial that stays dormant until favourable conditions return.  Favourable conditions may never come back for Dr Singh’s comfort. A part of India is greedy and self-indulgent.  A part of India is aspiring to be greedy and self-indulgent.  A part of India is a prisoner of historical injustices. A part of India doesn’t know who Mahathma Gandhi was and what it meant to become free.  I am neither an economist nor a social theorist but I can see (like most others) that India is suffering because its infrastructure is weak and incompetent, it has a false sense of heritage that is gradually becoming vicious, its vernacular languages are struggling to compete with English (especially in cities), and its institutions of democracy as envisioned by the first assembly have largely remained unrealised.  On top of all this is the pendulum of political uncertainty ‘led’ by the political class in India (ruling coalition as well as those opposite) has not inspired any confidence.  Dr Manmohan Singh, no matter how good his intentions are, cannot wave a magic wand to rescue the situation.   If he tries, and I think he has a feel for this, he will most likely end up being a fluke, and an unsuccessful one at that.  India has only one way forward and it will be a gradual churning mostly triggered by public outrage and measured interventions by the judiciary.

You can listen to the full radio clip featuring Todd Purdum’s take on “Obama’s team of rivals” by clicking here http://www.npr.org/2012/06/10/154710832/assessing-obamas-team-of-rivals.

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