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Thursday, December 09, 2021

The Prime Minister’s ersatz bravado

For a conscientious politician,honour is a greater adornment than power. He values honour more than the office he holds.....

Written by Sudheendra Kulkarni |
April 19, 2009 12:36:26 am

For a conscientious politician,honour is a greater adornment than power. He values honour more than the office he holds. However,it can be said of some politicians that they lose their honour before they lose power. Dr Manmohan Singh,an essentially honourable man (I say this on the basis of my interaction with him before he became Prime Minister),has allowed his personal integrity suffer a serious dent by,among other things,the reckless manner in which he has attacked L.K. Advani,the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP and the NDA. An objective assessment of what Advani said about Dr Singh,and how the latter hit back at the BJP leader,would reveal that the PM put his personal honour at stake and emerged a loser.

The harshest word that Advani has used in describing

Dr Singh’s performance is that he is a “weak” Prime Minister. He has only articulated what most Indians know—that the PM has allowed his high office to be “devalued” by making 7 Race Course Road subservient to 10 Janpath. There was no personal prejudice or animus in this description. It was in the nature of legitimate political criticism coming from an opposition leader. Advani is incapable of harbouring personal hostility towards anyone. On the contrary,he has on many occasions discarded constraints of political correctness to publicly shower praises on his political opponents.

Recall how he publicly eulogised P.V. Narasimha Rao,in the first year of his premiership,as India’s “best prime minister after Lal Bahadur Shastri”. Recall how both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and he supported several economic reforms initiatives of Dr Manmohan Singh when he was the finance minister in the Rao government. Recall how,when Advani represented the Vajpayee government at the funeral of E.M.S. Namboodiripad in 1998,he lauded the “idealism” of the CPI(M) leader. Recall also how,during his chance encounter with Rahul Gandhi at the airport lounge in Delhi in 2007,he told the young Congress leader that he did not consider the Congress an “enemy” of the BJP but only a “political adversary”,implying that the two national parties can,and should,cooperate on major national issues.

Although there was nothing abusive in what Advani had said about Dr Singh,the latter deliberately misrepresented his criticism as “abuse” in order to gain public sympathy and attacked Advani with a fusillade of highly personalised barbs. That he was not acting on his own became clear when he was seen to have synchronised his show of aggressiveness with the equally intense personalised attack on Advani by Sonia Gandhi and her son. It was as if the Congress leadership was stung by the fact that the people of India were seeing the ongoing parliamentary poll partly as a battle between a “majboot neta” and a “weak and proxy PM”.

“What is Mr Advani’s contribution to national welfare?” asked Dr Singh,in a mocking style that smacked of arrogance. The answer can be found in a presentation titled ‘Educating Dr Manmohan Singh’ prepared by an online volunteer working with me in Advani’s campaign office (see It brings alive a traumatic period in independent India’s political history—the dictatorship imposed during the Emergency Rule (1975-77) by the then Congress government—and describes Advani’s significant role in the struggle for the restoration of democracy. Under the saintly leadership of Jayaprakash Narayan,Advani and other opposition leaders participated in what came to be described as India’s “Second Freedom Struggle”. Along with tens of thousands of pro-democracy activists,he spent 19 long months in jail during the Emergency. Dr Manmohan Singhji,is this not a “contribution to national welfare”? And will you please tell the countrymen what you said or did during the Emergency—and whether you ever showed the courage of criticising it after you entered public life?

In another dig at Advani,Dr Singh said,“When Mr Advani was the Home Minister,the government handed over terrorists to the Taliban in Kandahar.” The entire country knows the extraordinary circumstances in which the Vajpayee government took the painful,unpleasant but unavoidable decision of releasing three terrorists in order to secure the release of 155 passengers aboard the hijacked Indian Airlines plane in December 1999. The action was in consonance with the unanimous decision taken by an all-party meeting convened by the Prime Minister on 27 December,in which the Congress was also present. The meeting had authorised the Vajpayee government to take “whatever decision keeping in mind the interests and safety of the passengers who were on board the aircraft”.

Let us also scrutinise Dr Singh’s words of ersatz bravado: “My government does not release terrorists when attacked. My government responds with commandos.” The hijacked Indian Airlines plane,when it reached Kandahar airport,was ringed by the tanks of Pakistan-controlled Taliban army. Moreover,the terrorists had placed explosives in the aircraft itself. It was on the sound advice of the Indian Army and Air Force that Prime Minister Vajpayee decided not to risk a commando operation in Kandahar and endanger the lives of 155 passengers. It is,therefore,foolhardy on the part of Dr Singh,who proved himself incapable of sacking his own utterly incompetent home minister for four-and-a-half years because the latter had the protection of 10 Janpath,to now say that he would have sent commandos to battle the terrorists in Taliban territory.

Dr Singh’s bravado has been busted by the candid words of his own new Home Minister. In a recent interview to NDTV’s Barkha Dutt,this is what P. Chidambaram said: “I do not know how I would have reacted if 150 families came to my doorstep and pleaded that the lives of their loved ones in that aircraft must be saved. It is easy to criticise but if one is in that position,it is a very difficult decision to take.”

Undoubtedly,the most outrageous comment in the Congress vs Advani face-off was made by Sonia Gandhi. Indirectly referring to the BJP,(those who “put on masks of desh prem”),she said at an election rally in Khunti (Jharkhand) on April 11: “We are in greater danger from people inside our country than from foreign terrorists entering India.” Congressmen are distinctly uncomfortable when asked if they would defend their foreign-born president’s shocking statement. After all,no responsible politician belonging to any party in India would ever say of his adversaries that they pose a greater danger to our country than “foreign terrorists”. Be it Dr Singh or Sonia Gandhi,they must be held accountable for what they say.

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