The Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s press meet with a select group of newspapers editors last week was a calculated endeavour to woo the media. But it has not yielded any significant outcome except promises, assurances and some statements. Meeting editors is an innovation by the UPA to give a message that it has got to play its instrumental role in the name of the aam aadmi for another three years. The Prime Minister stressing often that he is not a lame-duck PM reflects his identity. In fact, his contention that he is not a lame-duck PM sounds unsure when he has to announce at every press conference that he is ever ready to vacate the chair. For, Manmohan Singh is not a directly elected Member of Parliament—he is a Member of the Rajya Sabha—and does not have a mass following. He owes his prime ministership entirely to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. No surprise then, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh fields questions when he travels abroad but has staged only two press conferences and two interactions with editors in Delhi in the past seven years. Furthermore, he has given an interview only to an Indian newspaper once and never to an Indian news channel. These are extraordinary facts by any yardstick. They speak either of our leader’s lack of confidence or his lack of concern for addressing the sort of questions a democratic polity throws up from time to time. This absence of communication is made worse by the dissonance generated by disparate voices from the ruling party and government. If Prime Minster laments the media for helping to create an “atmosphere of cynicism” all around, it is only he and the government and the Congress who have only themselves to blame for. What further aggravated the situation is the fact that while talking to newspaper editors, the PM is reported to have made remarks that “25 per cent” of Bangladesh’s population is anti-Indian. However, these remarks were off the record, but owing to shocking lack of care from the PMO, these remarks were posted on the PM’s website for over 30 hours. And this led to a controversy, which dented India’s relations with Bangladesh that too at a time when External Affairs Minister SM Krishna’s visit is scheduled to Dhaka a week later! In fact, the handling of this situation has been manifestly shoddy and consequently an entirely unnecessary controversy has been imposed on a vital bilateral relationship.
Although Manmohan Singh played a crucial role in India’s development as an economic power, especially for the reforms he had devised as the Finance Minister in 1991, when it comes to being a Prime Minister, he has not achieved much success. During his regime, the country witnessed a series of scams, which is proof enough to substantiate the fact that his cabinet is afflicted with widespread corruption. Though, it is not just the scams, but the government’s overall inability to operate that has come under immense scrutiny in the recent past. The Commonwealth Games, the Adarsh Housing scam, the 2G spectrum scam, the ISRO row made things worse for the ruling Congress party. It is not just the political parties, but even taxpayers who have shown disappointment and anger over the government’s failure to be transparent regarding the scandals. An efficient Comptroller and Auditor General of India has proved to be of immense trouble to the ruling coalition and definitely exposed a lot of chinks in the government’s armour. And the PM too felt the heat, as, in his interaction with a group of editors, he criticised the press meet held by the CAG in early January after the report on 2G spectrum irregularities was tabled in Parliament. However, it is another matter that a 2005 judgment of the Madras High Court, upholding the right of CAG and its functionaries to brief the media on the contents of reports prepared by them and presented before the relevant Legislature, leaves no ambiguity on this count. Hence, it cannot be gainsaid that the UPA government and its leaders are not only unapologetic about their acts of omission and commission. They think nothing of denigrating their opponents and constitutional bodies to divert attention from their failures. The Congress, in particular, seems to think offence is the best form of defence. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has presided over the biggest corruption scandal of independent India, has no qualms about castigating democratic institutions for their cynicism, and the media for being the “accuser, the prosecutor and the judge”. It is clear that the UPA government is clueless about tackling the burning issues confronting the nation. In fact, all these days, the UPA government gave the impression that it was as serious as civil society, if not more, about tackling corruption and black money. But Dr Singh gave up the pretence during his interaction with the media, justifying the decisions taken by his government in a “world of uncertainty” and faulting the media, the CAG and Parliament for indulging in “propaganda”. Had the decisions been taken in good faith, no one would have faulted his government. The CBI probe into the 2G scam has proved that decisions were taken to benefit some people. Dr Singh cannot expect the nation to acquiesce in such decisions without a murmur.