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What India needs is leadership, not rage, Mr Prime Minister

September 04, 2013 08:31 IST

What India needs is leadership, not rage, Mr Prime Minister

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Vivek Gumaste

Both Dr Singh and the Congress party are culpable for India’s aimless drift. This crippling, self-destructive impasse of vacuous leadership cannot be allowed to persist for even a day longer. India demands and deserves better leadership, says Vivek Gumaste

Sugarcoat it with all the elixirs you can find in the universe, embellish it with boundless glowing superlatives culled from every lexicon on earth or blow it up as a feisty come back of a resolute leader. Nothing can alter the intrinsic reality of the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent vituperative outburst against the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Rajya Sabha on August 30.

It was not an objective response or a rational, point by point rebuttal to the charges levelled against him. It was an act of frustrated rage precipitated by the deepening economic crisis; a brazen attempt to change the trajectory of national debate by turning the tables on the opposition and a nuanced strategy to skirt the real issues.

In short it was the last stand of a cornered, confused and clueless individual who during his nearly decade long tenure as the prime minister had merely gone through the motions of being a leader without actually being one.

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Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks to the media in New Delhi
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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Investors are fleeing the country in droves

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Vivek Gumaste

Public authorities cannot silence their detractors by heightening the decibel of their response, by invoking personal animus or trading counter accusations. Time and again, the PM has charged the BJP with not coming to terms with his 2009 election victory.

But he fails to realise the flawed logic of this premise. Regardless of the validity or non-validity of his supposition, it cannot be a justification for the dismal performance of his government. These are two distinct issues sans a co-relational equation.

His explosive tirade in the Rajya Sabha was along similar lines: another attempt to connect unrelated dots.

His assertion that "corruption is there, has been there" is not a plausible argument. Moreover his claim that investor confidence has plummeted because of a non-functioning Parliament flies in the face of common sense. Mr Prime Minister, investors are fleeing the country in droves because of the endless corruption scandals in your government and your erroneous economic policy.

Arvind Subramaniam, an economist with the Centre for Global Development, a Washington based think tank rightly points this out: “But India’s problems have deep and stubborn origins of the country’s own making. The current government, which took office in 2004, has made two fundamental errors.

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Image: A man watches television inside his currency exchange shop in New Delhi
Photographs: Mansi Thapliyal/Reuters

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First, it assumed that growth was on autopilot

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Vivek Gumaste

First, it assumed that growth was on autopilot and failed to address serious structural problems. Second, flush with revenues, it began major redistribution programs, neglecting their consequences: higher fiscal and trade deficits.” (Op-ed, New York Times, September 1)

More importantly at the crux of India’s current fiscal crises is a wider malady: a comprehensive failure of overall leadership exemplified by Dr Singh’s pathetic captaincy; a deficiency deliberately nurtured by the feudal culture of dynastic politics prevalent in India’s ruling party.

In June 2012 with the Indian economy already faltering, a Standard & Poor’s report had commented on the deleterious impact of the dichotomy of leadership in the Indian government:

‘The crux of the current political problem for economic liberalisation is, in our view, the nature of leadership within the central government… paramount political power rests with the leader of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, who holds no cabinet position, while the government is led by a prime minister, Manmohan Singh, who lacks a political base of his own.

‘The division of roles between a politically powerful Congress party president, who can take credit for the party's two recent national election victories, and an appointed prime minister, has weakened the framework for making economic policy.

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Image: People look at a screen displaying the Sensex on the facade of the Bombay Stock Exchange building in Mumbai
Photographs: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

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Singh was more effective in his term as finance minister

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Vivek Gumaste

‘Singh was arguably more effective in his term as finance minister in the Congress minority government under Prime Minister Narasimha Rao… The difference is likely due to Rao's political support for Singh when he proposed dramatic steps to open the economy. Singh appears to lack that level of support from his own party today.’

The report warns: ‘How India's government reacts to potentially slower growth and greater vulnerability to economic shocks may determine, in large part, whether the country can maintain its investment-grade rating, or become the first ‘fallen angel’ among the BRIC nations.’

The Indian government failed to see the writing on the wall. No preemptive measures were taken and no course correction implemented. The current crisis is of India’s own making: another pointer to lack of effective leadership.

Dr Singh’s meteoric rise from an apolitical renowned economist to the highest position in the land and his fall from grace belong to the realm of a Shakespearean tragedy; a conspiracy of deceptive interplay between an ostensibly decent but malleable individual and the vested interests of a political establishment.

It is a narrative that chronicles the tempestuous struggle within of pristine integrity wrestling with the avarice of power and position; and a battle without of native intelligence and honesty pitted against ubiquitous graft and political expediency.

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Image: Congress president Sonia Gandhi talks with Singh during a meeting.
Photographs: Kamal Kishore/Reuters

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India demands and deserves better leadership

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Vivek Gumaste

And in the end depravity prevails, honesty and expertise become mere bystanders and the seemingly upright individual retains his nominal ascendency. That in a nutshell embodies the trade-off and tragedy of Manmohan Singh.

Dr Singh misinterpreted the maxim espoused by the three wise Japanese monkeys: “Hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil.” He preferred to see no evil when evil abounded, he chose to be deaf to roaring sound of corruption and kept mute about the ubiquitous decadence that surrounded him.

Leadership stipulates stern action when warranted and vocal assertiveness when appropriate. Perpetual reticence and inaction are not options. Personal integrity that fails to translate into action is a futile trait: a show piece of no utility value.

As much as Dr Singh is to blame for this impasse, his catatonia is to a great degree a superimposed trait: a crafty act of puppetry; a political machination to perpetuate the ascendency of a political dynasty.

Both Dr Singh and the Congress party are culpable for India’s aimless drift. This crippling, self-destructive impasse of vacuous leadership cannot be allowed to persist for even a day longer. India demands and deserves better leadership. 


Photographs: Yuya Shino/Reuters

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