Oct 18, 2008

Columnists - Khushwant Singh;The next PM ?

Manmohan Singh did well in saying that it was not yet time to decide whether or not he would run for a second term. There are still a few months to go before the next general election and the political scenario may change. He did even better by saying that there were others in his party as well, if not better-qualified than he to be Prime Ministers. He is a modest man not given to boasting. There are Pranab Mukherjee, Chidambaram, Kamal Nath, Arjun Singh and Kapil Sibal who have as much right to stake their claims to the top post as he. There are also outsiders like Digvijay Singh who have to be taken into reckoning. We are all aware that the final decision will rest with the President of the Congress Party. She knows our countrymen are not yet willing to have a foreign-born Indian at the helm of affairs. This is unfortunate but true. It is more than likely that she will choose Manmohan Singh for a second term because she can trust him and values his construction to the country. She will have to find him a safe constituency from where he can be elected to the Lok Sabha.

Manmohan Singh has his plus and minus points. A comparison with Pandit Nehru, our first and best Prime Minister, are pertinent. Nehru had a rich father who sent him to Harrow and Cambridge university. Manmohan comes from a poor family and won his way to Cambridge on scholarships and got the highest academic distinction. Nehru had no experience of administration. Manmohan Singh is a distinguished economist, has been a teacher, worked for the World Bank, was Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, head of the Planning Commission and Finance Minister. Nehru made some miscalculations in planning his economic policies. Manmohan had a clear vision of what the country needed and put them into effect. Nehru indulged in nepotism and cronyism. He imposed men like Krishna Menon on the country, appointed his sister Vijaylakshmi Pandit as governor and ambassador. He appointed Padmaja Naidu as governor. Manmohan has shown no favour to his relations or friends; he has no cronies. Most people don’t even know that he has three daughters, all highly educated. There is not a breath of scandal of financial skulduggery associated with his name.

Singh’s minus points should also be kept in mind. He has no constituency or political base. He will have to rely heavily on Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to win votes for the Congress Party to put him back in the Prime Ministerial chair. He has little charisma. He is not the paradigm of a martial sardar. He is not a great orator. He is very measured in his speech, never shoots his mouth, shouts slogans or indulges in rhetoric as most politicians do.

The principal contender for the post of the Prime Minister will be ex-Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani of the BJP. Since the time his party lost the last election, he has been prophesying Manmohan Singh’s imminent downfall, called him nikamma (useless). His record as far as money-making and kunbaprasthi (nepotism) is concerned is above reproach. He is also a good debater. The one thing I have against him is fouling the communal atmosphere in the country. He was the principal architect of the destruction of the Babri Masjid. All that has followed — bomb blasts in public places, attacks in trains, the pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat can be traced back to the horrendous crime committed in Ayodhya, and the fact that none of those who took part in it were punished. I have said many times and say it again: crime unpunished breeds criminals. The fall of the Babri Masjid has bred criminals, both Hindu and Muslim. Advani has to atone for his sins.

Of the BJP leaders the only other possible contenders for the post of Prime Minister that I can think of are Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley, Vasundhara Raje, Jaswant Singh and Yashwant Sinha. All of them will have to cope with the minority animosity against Advani.

The Left parties are not likely to have a candidate of their own, but in combination with other parties may pick on Somnath Chatterjee, as the most acceptable candidate.

And finally there are the two ladies, Mayawati and Jayalalitha, with ambitions and firm political bases. Both ladies have ego problems and lack national vision: their willingness to be deified may be their undoing.

At the moment, it seems the cards are stacked in favour of Manmohan Singh to pre-eminence and his performance as the leader of the nation, one rarely hears sardarji jokes which portrayed them as simple-minded buffoons and the only culture they knew was agriculture or soldiering. In his own quiet and unassuming manner he has gained respect for his community as well.

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