Why Manmohan Singh, Nero, is a Hero
Did the UPA use cash to win the trust vote in 2008? It would be naive to believe that it did not. Should Manmohan Singh resign? No. He is still our best bet as Prime Minister.
Singh staked his government for the nuclear deal. He could have played safe and clung on to office like a limpet, rather than put the UPA through the wringer. He saw the India-US civil nuclear deal as good for India. (It is). If he acquiesced in the cash transfer business (he says he was not aware), it was to secure India's national interest. Would we regard Manmohan Singh as a hero if he had failed to win the trust vote? No. He would have been shamed as a loser three times over: for turning the government prematurely out of office, for losing the nuclear deal and for betraying President Bush, a very good friend of India. Remember Singh's gamble did not have support within his own party. I recall a senior cabinet minister telling us reporters that Bush's presidency was on its last legs and a lame duck president would not get the numbers to push the nuclear deal past the US Congress. I salute Singh for taking that leap of faith.
Every leader has to pick their battles. The fight against corruption is urgent, but can wait. The nuclear deal could not. It was made possible by a unique set of circumstances, one of which was the occupancy of the White House by President Bush. If Singh lost the chance, India would have lost the deal.
Singh's dilemma was the non-choice that every honest citizen faces in this country blighted as it is by corruption. Suppose that your daughter was eligible on every count for a seat in a prized institute of learning. Suppose this was her last chance as shortly she would be past the qualifying age. Now if a venal administrator could spoil her chances if you did not pay up, what option would you exercise?
I can understand why the Communists' dislike Manmohan Singh. Their hatred of the United States is all-consuming; it blinds them. They were willing to sleep with Iran's mullahs to scuttle the nuclear deal. They gave it a communal tinge, calling it anti-Muslim. They swallowed scruple and principle to vote with the BJP, whom they regard as Hindu communalists. The WikiLeaks expose in The Hindu, which is a media partner of the Marxists, is revenge for the humiliation of 2008.
(Parenthetically, why did the newspaper not find the telecom scandal worth a campaign? Why is it not affronted by the humongous corruption in Tamil Nadu - which, paradoxically also has very good public systems of healthcare, elementary education, rationed grain distribution and roads. It was The Pioneer, the Times of India - individual reporters there - a Business Standard columnist, and a freelance journalist who soldiered on relentlessly. If newspapers and TV channels had not been selective about their fight against corruption, if they had not used their so-called investigations as image-building gimmicks, and if they had provided institutional support to crusading reporters, this country would have been in this sorry state).
What can one say of the BJP's hypocrisy? In January 2004, its government signed the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership with the United States to lift the ban on transfer of civilian technologies that can have a military use, remove organizations like ISRO from the list of entities barred for getting US (low-level) high technology, and for supply of balancing equipment to Indian nuclear plants subject to international safeguards. The civil nuclear deal goes far beyond that. More than a next step, it is a stride. The BJP would have given an arm and a leg to sign the deal. The UPA reached out to the BJP for support. But the BJP cast national interest aside to score political points (as WikiLeaks reveal). So much for the nationalistic credentials of a party that claims to embody nationalism!
Singh's integrity still sets him apart. It mocks those who point fingers at him (because most of them are themselves deeply tainted). He dented it by acting like Nero and letting Andimuthu Raja do as he pleased as telecom minister. He can redeem his reputation by bringing Raja and his pack to justice.
Singh's Nero act during the trust vote was statecraft. He had to play with what was available. Can the opposition honestly say that it did not bribe MPs to vote against the nuclear deal? Singh could have gone down as a lily-white hero if he was scrupulous about the means to secure the vote. That would have brought personal glory.
Unhappy is the land that does not have heroes - someone told Galileo when he recanted under pressure from the Church.
Unhappy is the land that is in need of heroes, Galileo replied. (Just look at Japan at this time of profound distress. Everyman is a hero there).
Singh would have been zero if he did not act like Nero during the trust vote.
More about Vivian FernandesVivian Fernandes is a senior journalist with nearly 30 years of practice, 19 of them in television, all of which he spent at TV18. Vivian’s last assignment was as executive editor of a book on India and China written by the founder of the Network 18 group, Mr Raghav Bahl. He has been an observer of Indian business and politics, and had reported on economic policy making as reporter, chief of Delhi bureau of correspondents and economic policy editor. Vivian has traveled abroad with Prime Ministers Narasimha Rao, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. He was also reported on the World Trade Organization’s trade talks from Cancun, Hong Kong and Geneva. He continues his association with the Network18 group, but not as an employee.
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