Debating India

Now, a political Prime Minister

Friday 3 February 2006

Manmohan Singh’s first meeting with the capital’s press corps in September 2004 showcased a Prime Minister starting out on the learning curve. Dr. Singh felt compelled to dispel scepticism about his ability to hold his job: "After 100 days, I have honed my survival instinct." The Prime Minister who took questions on Wednesday did so like a pro - not just self-assured and politically savvy but also adept at evasion and obfuscation. The trademark humility was gone; in its place was on view political smugness, only too evident in the way he dealt with critical posers on foreign policy, the Government’s track record in office, and the Congress’ relationship with its allies. The sharpest and most predictable questions revolved around India’s relationship with the United States - the discomfiting aspects of the civilian-nuclear deal, Ambassador David Mulford’s threatening remarks, and American arm-twisting on Iran. In response, the Prime Minister took refuge in patented homilies: India’s foreign policy was guided by "enlightened national interest" predicated on good relations with all countries; there was "no question of bending" on the nuclear deal; India was an "honoured dialogue partner" for the international community, "seeking a brave new world order," and so forth.

The Prime Minister stuck to the Government’s stated position that Indo-U. S. civilian nuclear cooperation was designed to end the regime of discrimination that denied India access to nuclear infrastructure and fuel. Persistent questioning on the deal in the making produced a self-contradictory, odd response: "There will be complete transparency ... I will take the first opportunity to make a statement in Parliament." Does transparency not mean taking the public into confidence before a deal with far-going implications is done? Does transparency mean revealing nothing when Parliament is not in session, on a sensitive matter that is being actively debated within the U.S. political establishment? Dr. Singh leads a minority Government whose very existence depends on support from the outside but you wouldn’t think so from his smug response to questions relating to serious differences on economic and foreign policy. The Left parties, he maintained, were expected to mount pressure, such pressure was useful in a democracy, but it did not amount to a threat to the Government. Dr. Singh showed no remorse for his Government’s mishandling of the Bihar issue, underlined by the Supreme Court judgment holding the May 2005 dissolution of the Bihar Assembly to be unconstitutional. He even took cover behind the 3-2 split verdict, implying it could have gone either way, so what’s the big deal? His assertion that the Government had no role in freeing Ottavio Quattrocchi’s bank accounts in London and that it was the Central Bureau of Investigation’s independent call was at variance with everything known about this scandal. Prime Minister Singh must clearly do better than this.

See online : The Hindu

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