New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday became the third longest serving prime minister of India after Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi—their common political lineage emphasizing the dominance of the Congress party in Indian politics.
However, critics, some of whom have been very severe, maintain that Singh, who overtook Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he completed 2,273 days on the job, is, unlike his predecessors, yet to leave his unique stamp on the post.
“He is not providing the leadership that is required from a prime minister,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, political analyst and president, Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank.
Critics claim this lack of leadership is behind the resurgence of an otherwise demoralized Opposition during the ongoing monsoon session of Parliament that began on 26 July. For much of the session, the government has been on the defensive over various issues ranging from inflation, financial irregularities in organizing the Commonwealth Games (CWG), the violence in Kashmir and railway minister Mamata Banerjee’s “public support” for Maoist leaders.
In fact, the Opposition has even pointed out that the Prime Minister has not made any intervention in Parliament on any of these issues.
On Tuesday, BJP’s Arun Jaitley, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, questioned the Prime Minister’s “silence” over many issues dogging the government.
“Silence, at times, can be a weapon of convenience, but conspiracy of silence cannot be allowed,” Jatiley warned.
Ashok Desai, former chief economic adviser in the finance ministry and a columnist, however, disagrees with this assessment, and claims Singh has “done well”.
“He is satisfied. He travels a lot and (has) done well in foreign policy,” he said, adding that it would be sheer waste of time sitting in Parliament and politicking.
“It’s a naive Indian belief that the leader should be a dictator and takes all the decisions himself. In (the) Congress party, the job is done by two people. He (Singh) wants to concentrate on the sectors where he is confident (he will) get results from,” Desai said. Desai listed “destroying BJP” and the successful signing of the India-US nuclear deal as Singh’s significant achievements.
Too many GoMs
Shivanand Tiwari, a senior member from the opposition benches, said that the Prime Minister had constituted many ministerial groups for taking decisions. These groups, called group of ministers (GoM) or empowered group of ministers (eGoM), typically weigh in on critical matters with the latter’s decisions being final. Tiwari, an member of Parliament belonging to the Janata Dal (United), claimed this was a reflection of the Prime Minister’s own competence. There are 45 group of ministers deliberating on different issues, including the caste census, administered price mechanism dismantling for petroleum products, the Telangana issue, and the proposed National Food Security Act. The Prime Minister’s spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
Mehta has pointed out that Singh’s leadership lacks two key qualities—being regularly articulate and taking hard decisions.
“Forget about Kashmir, which is a complicated issue. Even on the issues like inflation where he should have strength, he is not showing any leadership. There is no clarity of direction. There is so much of non-implementation and baffling,” he said.
“I never thought this degree of leadership vacuum would be there in this government and there is no excuse because the Opposition is in disarray and the coalition is still strong,” he added.
Tathagata Satpathy, a member of Parliament from the Biju Janata Dal, alleged that the Prime Minister, unlike predecessors such as Gandhi or Nehru, has been avoiding Parliament. “This prime minister’s governance record is unheard of and unnoticed and his is a rudderless government.”
Even some of Singh’s party colleagues admit that his interventions have been becoming increasingly rare.
“It’s true that governance is absent and he is not been able to take hard decisions in many areas,” said a minister, who did not want to be identified. The minister, however, added that Singh has taken some hard positions too. He specifically referred to the India-US civil nuclear deal that was signed in 2008.
2,273 days (22 May 2004 to present)
Born in Gah in Pakistan, Singh’s family was one of the millions that migrated to India after the 1947 Partition. Studying under the lights of street lamps, Singh rose to become an Oxford-educated economist who served as a bureaucrat before becoming finance minister in 1991. The high-point of this “accidental” politician’s career was undoubtedly when he was handpicked by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in 2004 to be prime minister. The soft-spoken, spare-framed Singh always sports a blue turban and is famed for his love for “dal-chawal”. His fan base includes US President Barack Obama, who recently said: ”Whenever the Indian prime minister speaks, the whole world listens to him.”
Played a key role in opening up India’s economy as finance minister in 1991
Withstood pressure from his Congress party and the Opposition to sign a landmark civil nuclear pact with Washington, paving the way for the removal of 34-year-old international embargos against the country in 2008
Seen as weak without a power base in his party, and deriving strength from Sonia Gandhi
Failure to control spiraling food inflation
6,130 days (15 August 1947 - 27 May 1964)
The charismatic Oxford-educated lawyer-politician has etched himself a permanent place in history as independent India’s first and longest serving prime minister. Born into a wealthy Kashmiri Pandit family in Allahabad in 1889, Jawaharlal Nehru anchored India’s credentials as a modern, secular, parliamentary democracy. Such was his hold over the people that the Congress won the general elections in 1951, 1957 and 1962. Nehru was a strong supporter of the United Nations (UN) and pioneered the policy of “non-alignment” at the height of the Cold War. Lesser known were his credentials as a historian with two books ‘The Discovery of India’ and ‘Glimpses of World History’.
Pioneered the concept of “non-alignment” and launched the Non-Aligned Movement in Cairo in 1961
Signed the Indus Water Treaty with Pakistan in 1960, held up till this day as an example of a durable pact between India and Pakistan
Laid the foundations of the Indian industry and scientific institutions that Nehru called the “temples of modern India”
Promised a plebiscite in Kashmir under UN auspices in 1948, which Pakistan and Kashmir separatists evoke till today to challenge India’s sovereignty over the region
Gave up India’s permanent seat in the UN Security Council to China
Failed to anticipate China’s aggression against India in 1962. India lost the war, and prestige
5,829 days (24 January 1966 - 24 March 1977, and 14 January 1980 - 31 October 1984)
Dubbed ‘goongi gudia’ for hardly speaking in Parliament soon after her induction into the cabinet in 1964 as minister for information and broadcasting, Indira Gandhi soon metamorphosed into India’s “iron lady” for her role in leading India to victory in the 1971 war that led to the creation of Bangladesh. The only child of Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi’s election as Congress president in 1959 stoked criticism for alleged nepotism, but she proved her mettle as a master politician, winning the 1971 polls by a large margin. Among the reforms she introduced in India were the nationalization of banks and abolition of privy purses. Her flawed handling of secessionism in Punjab, however, led to her assassination by her Sikh security guards in October 1984.
Signed the landmark 1972 Shimla accord with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
Laid the foundations of a national nuclear programme in 1967
Started the Green Revolution in the 1960s that ended India’s dependency on food imports
Declared a state of emergency in June 1975. She also ordered the arrests of the main opposition leaders.
Gave the go-ahead to the controversial forced sterilization programme to control India’s uncontrolled population growth in the 1970s
ATAL BIHARI VAJPAYEE
2,272 days (16 May 1996 - 1 June 1996 and 19 March 1998 - 22 May 2004)
Hailed for his oratory skills, Atal Bihari Vajpayee is the only non-Congress prime minister to complete a full five-year term in office. Anointed prime minister after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the single largest party in the 1996 general election, Vajpayee lasted a mere 13 days in office after he was forced to resign as he failed to win coalition partners to form a government. Seen as the liberal and moderate face of the BJP, Vajpayee was able to cobble up a coalition after the 1998 polls threw up a hung Parliament. But the malevolent power of “13” was to dog him yet again when he had to call fresh elections in 1999 after 13 months in office after his government lost a confidence motion in Parliament by a single vote. Vajpayee’s third stint as prime minister was his most successful one.
Stunned the world with India’s nuclear tests in May 1998. Such was the secrecy around preparations that even US spy satellites failed to detect them
Launched the 1999 bus trip to Lahore in a bid to make peace with Pakistan
Failed to take action against those behind the Gujarat riots that severely dented Vajpayee’s credentials as a moderate, secular leader
His government failed to detect Pakistani intrusions in Kargil, which led to the May-July 1999 conflict between India and Pakistan