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Whodunnit

The prime minister finally held a press conference but evaded the questions,shifted the blame.

The prime minister finally held a press conference but evaded the questions,shifted the blame.

Economic reform is not an event,but a process,Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at his press conference on Friday. So should political communication be a process,not a rare event. The PM’s press conference was only the third in 10 years. The UPA has been a remarkably silent and distant government in charge of a country that is more engaged,questioning and vocal than ever. The PM’s claim to speak “in party forums,when required” cannot paper over the fact that he does not make himself available for questions,even minimally,to the people he serves and is accountable to. Given the rarity of the occasion,therefore,questions ranged from the economy to foreign policy,from his equation with the party leadership to his view of arch-adversary Narendra Modi. But for all the expectation,and despite the fact that the press conference was held on the edge of a general election,Singh was evasive and underwhelming.

On the corruption scams that have rocked UPA 2,the prime minister essentially claimed that since they had their roots in UPA 1,and because the government had been rewarded by the people’s mandate in 2009,it had been absolved of the charges. This “vindication by election” argument is a dangerous one,and could be used to justify any ethical breach in governance. Then,he sought to disassociate himself from the issue,saying that he had argued for the transparent allocation of telecom and coal,and that none of his decisions had enriched his family or friends. But Manmohan Singh’s personal views or actions have not been controversial — his capacity to lead a clean government,and to steer it towards the ends he chooses,is the point of contention. He spoke of “circumstances” preventing him from visiting Pakistan and it is true that his party and government have thwarted at every point his efforts to seek a peaceful equilibrium with Pakistan. Yet,Singh himself put the gains of the bilateral exchange in danger by reacting reflexively to events on the Line of Control. Similarly,the economic slowdown may have been led by the global environment,but it was exacerbated in India by slow project clearances and a wilful environment ministry. The CAG and courts may not have been sympathetic to the UPA,but each paralysing crisis was created within the government. The UPA simply failed to take charge.

On Friday,the prime minister blamed others for every incapacity or misstep,and asserted that for him,“history” would be a kinder judge. History judges all leaders. But in a democracy,they also must square with the people.