Last week, a friend and business school class mate, who hails from Bangalore and works for a mutual funds company in Mumbai, was in town. As we were meeting after a long time, we chatted about a wide range of topics.
One thing that struck me the most during our conversation was his unprovoked remark that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh committed a grave error by sympathizing with the families of ‘alleged’ terrorists and their abettors and saying he lost sleep over their agony.
The PM should have lost his sleep over the serial train blasts in Mumbai last year that killed and wounded hundreds of innocent people, he noted.
Another long-time friend—who spends his time between Delhi and Mumbai and is the son of a prominent Congress party leader and a party faithful himself—also expressed shock and dismay over the statement of the Prime Minister. Once again, this was a spontaneous outburst.
With some of its recent actions, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre has alienated the middle classes and has handed them conversational topics to berate the ruling coalition.
Prime Minster Singh’s statement, “I could not sleep after watching the mothers of Indians (alleged terrorists and abettors) in custody,” was one such uncharacteristic act.
Neither of my friends are saffron enthusiasts, but both of them have a Mumbai connection.
That my friends’ views are symptomatic of the widespread anger among people (not just from Mumbai) is evident from scores of comments posted by netizens on websites.
Just sample this comment on a Web forum to understand the intensity of spreading resentment: “Manmohan Singh has simply forfeited the right and honour to be called the Prime Minister of India. He should instead be called the Prime Minister of Muslims.”
I concede that the views of my friends and a few netizens are not representative of the public opinion in the country. Yet, the strong and stinging criticism of the Prime Minister, who is mild mannered and otherwise respected by the middle classes for his unwavering commitment and integrity, is rather unusual.
Singh became a darling of the middle classes during his stint as the country’s finance minister between 1991 and 1996 for ushering in economic reforms.
In his present avatar as Prime Minister, people are aware that he lacks political authority and hence cannot take independent decisions. Despite this, the UPA government has enjoyed the trust of the people, and it is, in many ways, thanks to his personal image.
The Congress party and its leaders now seem to be in the ‘self-destruct’ mode. The political stature of young leader Rahul Gandhi was earlier dented by his hot-headed statements that horrified the nation.
With his latest statement empathizing with the families of alleged terrorists and their abettors—merely a few days before the anniversary of the Mumbai serial train blasts—the Prime Minister has reminded the Mumbaikars of the grisly attack.
Singh’s USPs are his wisdom and integrity, and so the statement was somewhat uncharacteristic of his generally cautious and mild nature.
One could argue that it is actually consistent with another of his un-Congress traits—he isn’t a calculating politician who uses well-placed comments to appease and attack and, instead, speaks his mind and heart.
But I am also wondering why the Congress party’s strategists don’t see that the credibility of the Prime Minister, which has been the sole strong point of the UPA government, could be destroyed by such statements that affect the sensibilities of the people.
On the other hand, behind the veil of Singh’s modesty and gentleness, if the Congress party is of the opinion that it can also make blatant attempts to appease the minorities and seek their electoral support, the party is making a huge error of judgement.
Never in the past has the party succeeded in its appeasement gambit, nor will it succeed now.
The Congress party lost the local body elections in Mumbai last year to the defunct Shiv Sena-BJP combine due to its inept handling of the investigations into the train blasts.
If the Congress party continues with its unrelenting and foolish pursuit to annoy the middle classes, it would unwittingly revive the moribund BJP and give it a fresh lease of life on a national scale.
Middle classes are a very important political constituency. They do not usually vote in large numbers but when they do, they cast the decisive vote. They are largely secular in outlook and have supported the Congress party in a good measure. But, the party’s minority appeasement efforts may force them to reconsider their options.
The first tremors of this may well be felt in the always communally surcharged political hot spot—Gujarat—when the state goes to polls in December.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of Development & Research Services, a research and consulting firm in New Delhi. Your comments are welcome at email@example.com