I was recently invited by an international news channel to a debate on the performance of the nine years of UPA regime and what should the Congress-led UPA government do in next one year. I am one of those people who believe UPA’s first term was very good and this second term has been tough. In the next one year, the PM has to come out and be assertive, as Dr Manmohan Singh is one leader whose personal integrity is still undamaged.
When the news of the brutal rape of a five-year-old girl rocked the nation – and the world – in April, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance President Sonia Gandhi did not waste time in registering their condemnation.
The dastardly crime happened on April 16 in Delhi’s Dilshad Garden area. The girl was discovered two days later. The newspapers in India had it in their edition of the morning of April 19. Angry reactions were almost spontaneous, with hundreds of commoners laying siege around the PM and UPA Chief’s house.
On April 20, the New York Times wrote: “The government’s concerns about the case ratcheted up so quickly on Friday night that...Singh expressed regrets about the episode. And on Saturday...Gandhi — whose house was also the site of protests on Saturday — released a statement condemning the rape and saying that “action and not words are required to ensure that such incidents never happen again.”
As if this quick reaction, even in the arrest of the main suspect in the case, was not enough, two police officers, including the lead investigator on the case and the one seen slapping the protester, were promptly suspended. According to Delhi Police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat, the lead investigator of the case is also being investigated after being accused of trying to bribe the child’s family to remain silent.
The Prime Minister and UPA Chief’s reactions were a far cry from the December 16 gang rape of Nirbhaya. On December 22, full six days after the attack, main Opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party attacked the Prime Minister and the UPA Chairperson for their stoic silence on the gang rape of the paramedic student. The Opposition party also demanded that both, Singh and Gandhi should assure the country on the safety of women.
At a press conference, BJP's Chief Spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “The Prime Minister ought to have spoken to them (the young protestors who took to the streets, resulting in the police taking evasive action). The police ought to have been sensitive. The way they have been lathi-charged, water cannon thrown at them and also the whole handling of the police and the administration is deeply regrettable and condemnable. BJP condemns the police action outright.”
He asked the Prime Minister to break their silence: “Why is the Prime minister silent? The whole nation is angry and Prime Minister has not said anything. Prime Minister should speak up. We would like to appeal to you. Please don't maintain silence today. Delhi wants assurance. Young boys and girls want assurance. People of the country want assurance that they will be given security and safety.”
Imagine for once, if Singh had not reacted to the five-year-old girl’s rape, what would have happened then? Obviously, there’d be another round of national indignation, questioning from the Opposition, persecution by Press, so on and so forth.
Perhaps it would have reinforced the findings of the ABP News – Neilsen Survey conducted in 28 cities across India in January, according to which, around 36 per cent of the respondents gave poor or very poor ratings to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
But that seems passé, at least for Singh. He seems to be getting assertive again. Recently, days after DMK pulled out of the UPA (the ruling coalition heading the Government in India), Singh candidly admitted that managing coalitions is not easy and urged industry leaders to have faith in government’s determination to revive the economy.
He said, while acknowledging there were deficiencies in governance, that the advantage of being a democracy is that the shortcomings were always put before the public. “And there are indeed many deficiencies. Corruption is a problem. Bureaucratic inertia is a problem. Managing coalitions is not easy. But these problems have not arisen suddenly,” he told Press Trust of India, adding that the government was taking steps to revive the economy.
Singh, however, was categorical in pointing out that these problems had not arisen suddenly and had existed even when the economy was growing at eight per cent per annum.
Indeed, “He may have realised that the best way to achieve this objective is by concentrating on his core-strength – economic reforms – the very reforms that made him what he is today. Probably, that is why we are seeing the government come up with a slew of economic reforms, including contentious ones like FDI in retail. Another thought that could possibly be crossing his mind is that now is the time he has nothing to lose. He probably knows that he cannot and may not even want to stand for the third term, so he might as well do all that he has been wanting to do, without any associated risks,” said Shobhika Puri, a freelance writer.
Lately, the Prime Minister has also given in to a form of aggression, though it is his polished own.
The Times of India published a report on March 9 that said: “(Manmohan) Singh's show of rare and sustained aggression against BJP triggered speculation about his sudden mood swing which some put down to his determination to counter repeated attacks by BJP leaders like Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who called him a night watchman awaiting the advent of Rahul Gandhi.”
He referred to senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley as a wise and discerning person, but quickly added that he should be more objective in assessing the UPA government. “If the leader of opposition (and) colleagues reflects calmly, they will conclude that the path we have chosen is the right path,” he said.
In a sharp observation, Singh said “men of envy” disparage everything whether good or bad. “I appeal to his better sense to make a judgment...considering wider national interest and not merely in pursuit of a mere political point,” he added.
That the Prime Minister has again begun reacting to what’s been said about the government is a good thing. Whether it is because he is eyeing a third term or that he has assured himself that he has nothing to lose or even because in the past nine years he has learnt much on-the-job and is more confident today than he was earlier, one thing that most certainly stands out is that he is at least clearing the air of doubts and discourses. We at least know now how our head of the government thinks and feels, not only of bigger matters of the state but also of what matters to the masses. Dr Manmohan Singh should communicate with the people and media more often and show the greatest democracy is led by a capable and honest leader who is doing his best in the constraints in delivering governance. The PM’s media advisors should get the PM to be himself and communicate and perhaps Brand Manmohan Singh will have a positive rub-off on the UPA and Congress.