PM tries to correct his image
Though the Prime Minister did not reply to a journalist’s query of why he had convened his press meet for the electronic media editors, it was very obvious that it was a feeble attempt to correct his image, which during the past few months has taken a beating.
And in doing so, Dr Manmohan Singh tried to distance himself from the various scams that have hit his government and made it abundantly clear once again that he was in mood to quit and will like to serve the rest of his five year term. But at the end of it, he emerged as a man not in control, helpless and compromised due to compulsions of coalition politics and someone who was trying to survive despite being surrounded by corrupt and inefficient ministers.
An image, which was badly dented. Here was a man whose strongest asset was his integrity but who during his six and half years in power had been badly bruised and wounded by political machinations of his own party as well as those of the opposition. But he also showed signs of his combativeness in conveying directly or indirectly his views to his party and other political groups as he also introduced some new facts regarding some ongoing controversies.
A Prime Minister whose resolve to continue was exceptionally strong and who had decided to bear the scars on his body when he faced his opponents and supporters up front. A PM who had little say in the recently held Cabinet rejig but was adamant of having his way in the one he proposed after the budget session. Many wondered whether there would be any reshuffle at all.
Unlike previous occasions, Singh sounded a bit defensive and looked nervous. He rarely smiled and faltered frequently as he took on questions from the representatives of some of the top TV Channels. His objective seemed clear that he first of all wanted to absolve himself of all blame regarding the scandals, particularly the 2G-spectrum scam which has dominated headlines.
He gave an elaborate explanation why he did not overrule his minister A Raja and that the Telecom Ministry, TRAI, the Finance Ministry and some leading Telecom experts were on the same page as Raja on the 2G issue. When all of them had one view, what could he have done especially after Raja had assured him that the process was going to be transparent.
What was significant was that the Prime Minister, for the first time since the 2G scam broke out, also named the Finance Ministry of being in agreement with the then Telecom Minister. The role of the Finance Ministry has so far not been discussed in relation to this scam.
On the reason why he re-appointed Raja as his Telecom Minister after the 2009 polls, he put the blame on the requirements of coalition politics.
Manmohan Singh’s assertion that he was willing to appear before any committee of Parliament including the JPC and PAC probably indicated that the decision not to constitute a JPC was not at his behest. He said that a very senior BJP leader headed the PAC and he had volunteered to appear before it.
However, he was not going to shy away from facing the JPC is that was constituted. His detailed observations pointed out that the decision not to have a JPC was not his and that of someone else. The suggestion was very evident.
Manmohan Singh made an admission that he had had to make many compromises and he was not happy with the way these scams had been unearthed. But at the same time, he considered the projected growth rate of 8.5 percent despite adverse economic climate as a big achievement and he would want to curb inflation without hurting the growth momentum.
The Prime Minister had repeated digs at the BJP and without elaborating it hinted that a possible reason why Parliament did not function during the monsoon was because the government refused to revoke the criminal proceedings against a Gujarat minister. He said that opposition should not have held up the proceedings of Parliament.
The PM did not touch on India’s relations with China and Pakistan and merely welcomed in very general terms that his government supported any initiative for bringing in democracy in the ushering in of a democratic set up in any country.
One more reason why he decided to hold the press meet was that he is still not sure whether the BJP and the opposition will allow Parliament to function. Before that happens, he wanted to have his say. Otherwise the press meet was avoidable. The excuse that he wanted to meet TV journalists since he had in September met the print journalists was not too strong. The print journalists felt left out and probably unhappy too. The crisis of credibility as it exists today did not exist in September. And there was no reason to antagonize a section of press. Bad strategy.
I have watched many top leaders from Indira Gandhi to Jagjiwan Ram, Y.B.Chavan to Morarji Desai, Rajiv Gandhi, Chandashekhar, V.P.Singh, P.V.Narasimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K.Advani besides Sonia Gandhi from very close quarters.
Manmohan Singh is not a traditional stereotype politician. But someone who knows which side his bread is buttered and also is conscious of his strengths despite his numerous weaknesses. He is in no mood to give up is what he has told his party and challenged his opponents to oust him. Manmohan Singh may have been battered and bruised by the scams but he is not over. Not as yet.