PM’s ‘maun vrat’ louder than Anna’s ‘anshan’?

When Dr Manmohan Singh took the floor of the Rajya Sabha at noon today, my Anna Hazare anshan-weary co-workers and I sighed. One of the youngest among us quipped, ‘PM ab kyon bol raha hai?’ (Why is the PM making an address now?) When no one bothered to answer, he said cheekily, ‘Kyunki baara baj gaye’ (..Because the clock has struck twelve).

It’s a common, though deeply offensive and prejudiced joke often made about the curious relationship between Sikhs and mid-day. In this case, the Sikh being the Indian Prime Minister.  And sadly, this is just one of the many jokes told about him.  Our Cambridge- and Oxford-educated, world’s-most-qualified Prime Minister is the butt of jokes. He’s been called the silent movie show who is remote-controlled by Sonia Gandhi, the puppet in her hands and so on.


PM's 2G: Sonia ji and Rahul ji

Every night, I imagine, he cries himself to sleep. But he has only himself to blame.  When scam (Commonwealth Games 2010), after scam (Adarsh Housing Society, 2010) after scam (2G Spectrum, 2010) came to light, the nation grew more and more outraged. But the effect was quite the opposite on the Prime Minister. He grew more and more quiet. And silence is not golden when you lose face in the eyes of the people, when the country’s apex court asks you why you didn’t say a word for 11 months on a request seeking action to prosecute your corrupt Telecom Minister, when the opposition is gunning for your head and your own colleagues run out of excuses to make for you.  Let’s just say, if LK Advani wrote ‘Manmohan Singh is a weak PM’ as his status message on his Facebook page today, I can bet you many people, even those who weren’t his friends in 2009, would want to ‘like’ it.  Thumbs up.

What really gets me is this. I KNOW Manmohan Singh can get angry. We’ve all seen him tell the Left parties who’s boss. We saw his cheeks flush as he made a historic defence in Parliament, from the very bench he sat on today at noon, during the July 2008 trust vote.  So why isn’t he angry now. If he feels a sense of helplessness or outrage because the 10 Janpath takes all calls while all he gets are the brickbats, why isn’t he speaking out.

I want to see some of that fire power now.  Some of that respect that ebbed away might return if he just opens his mouth, says something, says anything. Admits he was wrong. Or claims he was right along. Blames a foreign hand or not. Anything will do.

The govt’s latest crisis –  being held to ransom by social activist Anna Hazare for not creating a strong anti-corruption law- has only exposed the Prime Minister further. BJP ideologue Sudheendra Kulkarni called him ‘Yesterday’s PM‘ in the Indian Express newspaper on Sunday. Kulkarni said the PM could have persuasively explained to the people of India why bringing his office under the Lokpal’s ambit wasn’t necessary to eliminate corruption, and still saved some face. Not doing so has only left the PM more ‘weak, wounded and isolated’ than before.

Wanted: A Magic Wand for PM, apply to 7, Race Course Road

The accidents and incidents of the last 18 months, I fear, will upstage Manmohan Singh’s achievements.  A little less keeping quiet and a little more speaking up would salvage a slightly more favourable depiction of him in future history books and Wikipedia.  Kulkarni ponders that it’s difficult to see how how the PM will heal these self-inflicted wounds.  Harry Potter isn’t going to lend him that elusive magic wand he keeps referring to, to solve each problem. It’s going to take political will and for that Manmohan needs to man up.


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