Meek is not weak

The Congress, if I know anything about the party, always lands on its feet every time it looks as though it is taking itself and the country into chaos and is sure to collapse. It is now not once but twice that the party has managed to get its own man (and woman earlier) into Rashtrapati Bhavan, against all odds. And while in 2007 the exercise was fractious enough with its candidate perhaps not the best person for the job, in 2012 they have outdone themselves: they have killed not just two birds with one stone, but perhaps three.

At the moment, though, I am overwhelmed by a feeling of sympathy for West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee after I recently heard a very senior Congressman describe her as a frustrated spinster who needed to be firmly put in her place.

Mamata might well find herself between a rock and a very hard place now, considering how she jumped the gun and went hysterical about her choice of President publicly. But while she might have been frustrated by the counter-moves of the Congress over the presidential polls, her place in the UPA is really under no threat, though facing both Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh again might countenance a lot of humility and dignity which I doubt she possesses in any good measure.

Before that, though, she might have something to think about in how deftly the Congress manipulated her into this embarrassing position and she might also think twice before trusting Samajwadi Party chief Mulalayam Singh again, considering he has done to her what he did unto Congress president Sonia Gandhi in 1999 after her now infamous, “We have 272,’’ statement.

But Mulayam, as ever, was looking after his own interests, then, as he has now and his interests are certainly not the same as Sonia Gandhi’s or even Mamata Banerjee’s.
However, I am more taken aback at how smoothly the Congress has managed to get Pranab Mukherjee out of the Finance Minister’s office. To Mukherjee, it might indeed be an honour to be elevated to the presidential office. But I have reason to believe that he has been a thorn in the flesh of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh ever since UPA II and has now been neatly plucked out by Congresd president Sonia Gandhi whose economic sense is more pro-poor than pro-rich as compared to Mukherjee or even the Prime Minister.

But, even if he had to go through a day’s embarrassment by being named as the presidential choice by both Mamata and Mulayam, the Prime Minister finally seems to have got his way. I have reason to believe that Mukherjee had only contempt for the PM and would not listen to any of Dr Singh’s sound economic advice. A senior Congressman has told me that party leaders were convinced that Mukherjee was beginning to believe in his own myth of being indispensable to the government and that they were convinced India’s economic crises was more the doing of the he finance ministry than of the PMO.

“Mukherjee had been Dr Manmohan Singh’s boss in 1983 when he was finance minister in Indira Gandhi’s cabinet and could not accept the role reversals three decades later. He just laughed away the PM’ every suggestion and was seen as working more to the interests of certain corporates than for the aam aadmi.’’ So, of course, Mukherjee had to go. True to its character the Congress has let him know that no one is quite indispensable in their party – apart, of course, from the Nehru-Gandhis – but while couching it in terms of an honour and a promotion and a fitting cap to his long and distinguished career.

Then, again, from being on the verge of a mid-term poll early this week, to an undisputed victory and a strengthening of position (with both Maywati and Mulayam voting on the same side in this election), there can be no doubt about its survival instincts — it will never let go before it has to and knows how to squeeze the last drop out of its term whenever it comes to power. Quite unlike the BJP which gave away its 2004 elections with an advancement of polls to May that year – I still believe that if they had avoided a hot summer election and waited until a cooler post-monsoon December, the aam aadmi might not have been as thirsty and hungry as to eat up the BJP leaders for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And L K Advani might have got to realise his dream of becoming Prime Minister.

However, as the Bible says, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. And, for all his meekness, Dr Manmohan Singh not only now holds the record, after Jawaharlal Nehru, of being the only Prime Minister to return to office twice without interruption, he wins yet again over those who might ridicule him as the weakest Prime Minister India has ever had, including those from within the party organisation or even hiis own cabinet.

To quote again: it is also said `whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself: shall be exalted’. The first part at least is true of Mamata Banerjee and the Congress has again managed to salvage its tattered image vis-à-vis the shenanigans of the West Bengal CM who has been holding the UPA government and the country to ransom ever since coming to power in May last year.

I believe she will indeed have to eat some humble pie, one way or the other – if she votes for Pranab Mukherjee, on the grounds that he is a fellow Bengali or even if she does not and Mukherjee, as is now almost certain, wins the presidential polls.

Perhaps a little humility might have gone a longer way – as is evident from Dr Manmohan Singh’s position today: he may be meek but he ha shown that he is certainly not weak. He has got his way again. Now we just have to wait and watch who becomes India’s next finance minister. This, time, though, the UPA government cannot afford to get its fundamentals wrong. It has very little time on its hands. And if it fails to yet deliver it will be the Congress’s turn to be humbled – at the hustings.

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