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March 06, 2011

Page: 9/39

Home > 2011 Issues > March 06, 2011

News Analysis

Dr Singh a weak, compromised PM

By Shyam Khosla

Not only the Finance but also Law Ministry and even the Telecom Ministry had taken serious objection to the manner in which spectrum was distributed. The PM remained a mute spectator even while Raja ignored his letter in which the former had cautioned the latter against taking any step without informing him.

Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s "live" interaction with a selected group of editors and bosses of news channels was a smart move that failed to click because no one believes in half lies and canards he dished out and his failure to send across a credible and strong message. The only message that emerged is that he was not as much a "culprit" as he was being made out and that he was helpless because of coalition compulsions.

The "honest and sincere" Prime Minister pretended that he was "dead serious" about tackling wrongdoers even while endorsing Kapil Sibal’s totally untenable claim that there had been "zero loss" to the public exchequer in the 2G spectrum allocation. His replies are yet another manifestation of the Government and Congress party’s unwillingness to concede that there had been wrongdoings on a massive scale. The Prime Minister’s claim of his seriousness to act against the corruption is to be viewed in the context of the inconvenient questions recently raised by a Supreme Court bench about the Prime Minister’s long silence over the loot of public funds by A Raja. His reply to the question about PMO’s involvement in Antrix-Devas deal is anything but straight yet his public commitment that there would be no dilution in the Space Commission’s recommendation about annulment of the controversial deal is welcome. One would wait and see if he lives up to his words.

One of the most disgusting observations made by the Prime Minister was equating plunder of public funds with the subsidies for the world’s largest hungry population. With a mischievous smile he asked if the subsidies worth Rs 80,000 crore for the deprived sections of the society could also be described as a loss to the exchequer. And they talk about their commitment to the common man. His claim that neither the Finance Ministry nor the Telecom Regulatory Authority had objected to the procedure adopted by A. Raja is a canard. Not only the Finance but also Law Ministry and even the Telecom Ministry had taken serious objection to the manner in which spectrum was distributed. The PM remained a mute spectator even while Raja ignored his letter in which the former had cautioned the latter against taking any step without informing him. It is incorrect to claim that Dr Singh went by the expert advice. On the contrary, expert advice was against the procedure adopted by Telecom Minister. Further, there is a thing called collective responsibility in a parliamentary system of Government. The PM can’t escape responsibility for the misdeeds of his cabinet.

In tune with the plan to divert public attention from his poor governance, the Prime Minister blamed the BJP for disruption of the winter session of Parliament and hurting economic reforms. The last session was washed out because of Government’s stubbornness in not accepting the entire Opposition’s demand for setting up a JPC to probe into 2G scam - the biggest fraud played by his Government. If the Opposition’s stand was irrational, why have the Government conceded the demand now? There is no point blaming the Opposition for Government’s failure to take action against those involved in loot of public funds about which sections of media had carried credible stories based on official records. His allegation that the BJP had torpedoed a consensus on Goods and Services Tax (GST) to avenge the arrest of a Gujarat minister was promptly refuted by Narendra Modi by describing it as the biggest joke of the year. Further, the chief minister said "his government and several other state governments, including non-BJP Governments, had raised issues about the GST. Instead of sorting out the issues raised by states, the Prime Minister took an undignified dig at the BJP."

Compulsions of coalition politics don’t justify corruption. And it is not only UPA ministers belonging to non-Congress parties that are under the cloud. Will the Prime Minister take the nation into confidence as to what was his compulsion to induct into the Cabinet Vilas Rao Deshmukh that was castigated by the Supreme Court for his conduct as Chief Minister of Maharashra? Although Dr Singh is projected as an "honest man", he emerges as a helpless and compromised Prime Minister.

Media persons invited to the interaction didn’t raise several issues that are matters of great public concern and anxiety. Of course, the issue of black money was raised. It was responded to in a cursory manner. No one persisted with the issue of massive loot parked in tax havens abroad and as to why the Government was reluctant to reveal names of entities in this regard. The amnesty scheme for the super rich that is under the consideration of the Government was not explored. No one thought of raising issues like large scale suicides by farmers. More surprisingly, there were no murmurs, what to talk of protests, when Dr. Singh chided the media for creating the impression that India was a "scam-driven" country and went on to blame the media for weakening the self-confidence of the people and damaging country’s image. No one told him that it is the Government and not the media that has put the nation to shame by rampant corruption, poor governance and lack of competence. Media can rightly claim credit for exposing these scams and playing a major role in Government taking action, albeit belatedly, against the corrupt. Of course, media suffers from several infirmities but there is no justification in blaming it for doing investigative stories on scams on which this Government sat for years.

The proceedings left one with the impression that it was more like a drawing room chat than a group of senior media persons questioning Government’s claims and raising pertinent questions. There were, however, a few bright patches. The first question was on the hottest issue of the year - 2G scam. A press conference is no occasion to build bridges with the powers that be. Robust journalists talk softly but ask penetrating questions to bring out the truth. One is reminded of Rajiv Gandhi’s last Press Conference as Prime Minister in the Congress office on Akabar Road. Angry newsmen questioned him on Bofors and what not. Similarly, V P Singh was grilled by a robust crowd of journalists at his first press conference as Prime Minister. This time round, the seniors let down the media and the people. Presumably that was the purpose of not holding a press conference. Prime Minister’s spin masters must be smiling.

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