Dr Manmohan Singh is only the illusion of a prime minister.
From Jammu last week,and most horribly,came yet another example of what happens when policies and institutions are reduced to an illusion. It is in matters of national security and foreign policy that we see the worst legacy of being ruled by a prime minister who is not in fact prime minister. Its true that he represents India this week at the United Nations and speaks on our behalf to world leaders,but the average Indian knows that,in the game of smoke and mirrors that Sonia Gandhi has played with such skill,Dr Manmohan Singh is only the illusion of a prime minister. The problem is that neither is she and nor is her son,who announced,with the profundity of a political ingénue,at a rural public rally four days ago that he did not believe that one man alone could solve Indias problems. You are wrong boss,and here is why.
In a parliamentary democracy,it is the prime minister who is the first among equals. It is his personal responsibility to make policies and be accountable when these turn out to be bad ones. But,in the past decade that India has been ruled by an illusory prime minister,nobody has been accountable and nobody appears to have been fully in charge. This is why we have seen bad policies made by rogue ministers and open defiance from a rogue Army chief. What a tragic coincidence that no sooner did this former Army chief make his foolish revelations on Kashmir than we had our first major cross-border terrorist incident in years. And,what a frightening security lapse it proved to be.
Somehow military intelligence missed the killer squad crossing the LoC. Then the killers attack a police station,hijack a truck on a major road,and make their way to an Army camp an hour away without anybody sounding a red alert. Is this what we call national security? Have we learned not a single lesson,even a small one,from the 26/11 attack? The man directly responsible for what happened is technically the Prime Minister,but can we really hold him to account when we know that he has played a subordinate role in matters of policy for the whole of his second term?
Meanwhile,if you are among those who are waiting for Narendra Modi to come and rescue us from the dreadful mess in which India is today,think again. It is true that Modi has shown remarkable political skills and that his rallies are drawing huge crowds across the country,but do we know what his policy on national security will be if he becomes prime minister? No we do not. All we have heard from the Bharatiya Janata Partys many garrulous spokespersons are hysterical diatribes condemning a dialogue (with Pakistan) over dead bodies. It would be much better if they explained in minimal detail what a BJP government would do to stop jehadi terrorism if it takes power in 2014. So illiterate are even senior BJP leaders in matters of international affairs that Rajnath Singh said to an audience in Washington,on his recent trip there,that India had no problems with any of her neighbouring countries.
The BJPs senior leaders have spent so much time making Parliament dysfunctional and trotting off to the President at the drop of a hat in the hope of yet another photo-op that they have had no time to think of alternative polices. They have acquiesced in passing the worst laws made by Sonias kitchen cabinet and they have not once questioned the dangerously careless manner in which national security has
been handled. It is not enough to send hysterical spokespersons on to national television and to allow them to shriek about failures of policy.
The BJP will need to do much better than this because one of the reasons why the average Indian seems desperate for a strong leader is because,mixed with the despair that is the dominant national mood,is a deep sense of insecurity. Trawl the social media and you will hear the enraged responses to the attack in Samba or,if you have the time,wander down to your local bazaar and chat to people.
It is dangerous for a country to be leaderless in troubled times and the general view is that India is today leaderless even if,as I write these words,our Prime Minister holds forth at the UN General Assembly. The good doctor has lately shown signs of revival and speaks more than he has done in a long while,but he may as well go back to his silences because it is too late. He remains only a prime ministerial illusion and will be remembered that way.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @tavleen_singh