The Myth of Manmohan Singh

The Myth of Manmohan Singh

The Follower as Leader
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, May 22-24, 2009

History is often about a play of words. The man of the moment who has taken the oath of office for the second term is an actor in search of ‘no character’. It is the invisibility of the persona that is his trump card.

It works in a situation where we are robotising the human. Indian democracy has promoted a standard iconisation of the middle-class. This is not the middle-class of dissent but of consumerism. Our Prime Minister is not the brand; he is the franchisee. Dr. Manmohan Singh, the genial, the educated, the decent man, has power without responsibility.

He will probably go down in history as a bureaucrat being promoted as a great politician. Dr. Singh does not deserve many of the accolades he has got. So, where's the catch?

The catch is to have canny people to back you. No one realises that the real force behind the liberalisation policies was former Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao. As finance minister, Singh became the hero of the industrialists. They did not mind some wealth percolating down to the middle-class as long as it was called the middle-class. Therefore, India’s power is still in the hands of the business tycoons. The swelling belly has not given birth to any major financial power centre; it could well have been a mere bubble.

Manmohan Singh’s role is to showcase a country that exists in the imagination of a few.

That is his version of India. He has never contested an election; he has no grassroots experience. It shows up glaringly when he decides to go rural in his talks. When the Left Parties were opposing the nuclear deal, he tried explaining his stand to the then President George Bush by stressing that it was important to take care of the vulnerability of two-thirds of the population, namely 650 million people, dependent on agriculture for sustenance. "That meant that India needed some degree of protection through special products and safeguards, on which we need greater clarity."

In his enthusiasm to play Santa Claus he did not notice all those farmers committing suicide or that India was importing wheat. What happened to the great Green Revolution?

The caucus of industrialists supported the deal, not the ordinary citizen or the villager who is supposed to benefit. It was also a major diplomatic sell-out. India already generates hundred thousand mega watts of energy; with this deal we would get 20,000 MW more by the year 2020.

This is what showcasing the prioritised India means. He is no strategist, but he walked away with all the credit for something that amounts to nothing.

In the crass world of politics where wily forces rule, Singh’s asset is that he is a vacillator. His being a phenomenon has more to do with serendipity than statesmanship. The Congress has wisely used his name as their calling card. But it is not true that every wrong move by the party and the onus of it would be on him. Quite the contrary. He is in the enviable position to get away with anything and attribute it to helplessness, because he is not considered rabid, rigid, or regressive. And he is answerable to the dynasty.

It would be no revelation to state that Sonia Gandhi is propping up Dr. Manmohan Singh; the more pertinent point is that he chooses to be propped up.

In the epic Mahabharata, the low-caste archer Eklavya is asked to offer his right thumb as guru dakshina as he could prove to be a threat to the royal Pandava Arjuna. Although he has not been tutored by the guru Dronacharya, he has been inspired enough to practise before his clay idol. The disciple readily offers him his thumb.

In the contemporary context, would it be considered a sacrifice or a measure to please? In the epic, the reason the guru is completely awestruck by the humble archer's skills is that on being disturbed by a barking stray he aims an arrow and seals the mouth of the dog without apparent injury or loss of blood.

Dr. Singh’s has been a bloodless coup. He has added that dreaded word dignity to the lexicon of Machiavellian manoeuvres. What we see of him today is an elderly patriarch trying to appear upright while promoting a liberal market lifestyle. It must be noted that the liberalism is confined to the market.

He is protecting the brand. The brand comes with the baggage of Bofors. Of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. He looks the other way and pushes forward the Rahul Doctrine. No one quite knows what it is. Dr. Singh is probably unaware about it too. Rahul Gandhi has been called the political scion, and there is no need for us to be chary about it, for we have watched this and encouraged it for six decades. Today’s pretence and talk against monarchy are essentially hollow dictums to appear as dissenters.

Rahul Gandhi famously said that his party is proud of the poor in India. The romanticisation of poverty is primarily non-rational. So when we talk about equality it is a legal expression. All legal systems have been brought by force. This suits democracies rather well; you do not have to ensure uniformity because it goes against the egalitarian principle of fairplay.

The Doctrine may have gained some ground in Uttar Pradesh, but that state is not in the big stakes financially. It is good to let the political iron remain hot there while the big businesses thrive elsewhere and keep their saviours in power happy.

One might be prompted to make the rather wicked comment that this is a caretaker government. As Pythagoras said, with the advent of the intelligent man, there is no honest man.

Manmohan Singh has been given a pedestal; the pillar is the Family. Today’s cult figure is ensured tomorrow’s cartoon strip.


  1. FV,
    Dr Manmohan Singh is the CEO of India Inc and not the PM. PMs were leaders and Congress doesnt have one . They claim they are grooming one . It is the same as Modi family hiring a professional to be the MD and Modis are the Chairman, he is the front man, he is educated, he is intelligent and has a World bank Pension ....he has nothing to loose. He is a low maintenance, zero aspiration guy , what else does congress want ....

    But I have a suggestion for Rahul, he should opt for sperm donation....this country of intellactually bankrupt people will need those for breeding future prime ministers....

  2. Manish:

    But I have a suggestion for Rahul, he should opt for sperm donation....this country of intellactually bankrupt people will need those for breeding future prime ministers....Don't you understand that the idea is to belong to the Family...it is not like agriculture; he may be proud of the poor but not all that proud....

    I read your views on manmohan singh. i feel thoughts or arguements whipped up without the comparitive datum of other options available is like pointing a light in dark space...its just a view. in the light of what other options are available to the country....he may be the best thing happening for the time being...as far as grudge against Rahul is concerned...the positive aspect is that at least he (mom included) has the decency to wait for appropriately long time and go through so called learning proces( a la conevent school with AC bus) before claiming the throne...coz our sycophants would have been pleased to let him sit their while he was in diapers.
    so situation is not so bleak...
    satyamev jayate.....(dont expect it to win with dramatic flourish...thats the only option available for truth):D


    We do have comparative data, in that when we speak about the TINA factor we have looked at them and settled for the known 'devil'. If a viewpoint is pointing some light in a dark space it confirms that the space is indeed dark! I know all this sounds like gobbledygook but that's my forte...

    No grudge against Rahul but I am not sure he is going through a learning process. He should have accepted even a non-controversial portfolio and shown us about real changes possible. Now it is all about usko shreya dena chahiye. That rural development portfolio would have helped, and it is ok if he travelled in a Nissan SUV.

    Btw, the sycophants wanted Priyanka when she was in diapers; Rahul is just the other option.

    I like your optimism but politics here is more about satya mewaa jayate...khao peeyo aish karo, aur kya? :)

  5. i feel that his lack of political experience is the one thing that set apart the good leader from many hankering for his position...


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