A Prime Ministerial Message Statesmanlike, Non-Partisan & Non-Apologetic
The Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, whose Government is left with less than two years in office addressed the nation on the night of September 21, 2012.
He has been addressing the people from the Red Fort on the Independence Day every year. He had also briefly addressed the people on the TV after the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai.
His televised address of September 21, 2012, had a different context and a different purpose. The context was the growing negative atmosphere in the country partly as a result of his own sins of commission and omission in providing effective and inspiring leadership to the country during his second tenure as the Prime Minister that started in 2009.The negative atmosphere was also partly the result of the concerted efforts of the opposition led by the BJP to exploit the economic and other difficulties faced by the country to destroy the credibility of his Government and of him as a leader.
The BJP and other Hindutva elements have been constantly trying to project him as a non-leader, who has neither the stature nor the will nor the ability nor the powers to govern. They have been projecting him as a Prime Minister on sufferance kept in office by Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the Congress Party, in order to enjoy the powers of office without the accountability for its record.
The purpose was to explain to the people the state of the national economy against the background of the global economic meltdown and the rationale for some unpopular economic decisions taken by his Government last week to reverse the slow-down in the economy. These decisions, inter alia, related to the increase in diesel prices to reduce the fiscal deficit in the short term and to permit foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail and civil aviation in order to revive the interest of the foreign businessmen in investing in India. The purpose was also to convey a clear message to the foreign investors that India is still a vigorously on-going story and not a story that has petered out.
Thus, his message was simultaneously addressed to two audiences—Indian and global. His message to the Indian audience was that “I am the Prime Minister of India, I started the Indian economic miracle between 1991 and 96, I have a responsibility to take the miracle forward despite the temporary difficulties, I am determined to do so and my ability to do so would depend on your support.”
He explained the rationale for the recent economic decisions in lucid terms, admitted that these are hard and unpopular decisions and sought the people’s understanding and support. His message for understanding and co-operation was not addressed to the political class—neither in his own party nor in the opposition. It was directly addressed to the people in his capacity as the Prime Minister responsible for the governance of the country.
His message to the global audience sought to highlight his determination to give a fresh momentum to the economic reforms of which he was the architect between 1991 and 1996 and to make India investor-friendly once again.
While the purpose of his message to both the audiences was loud and clear, his ability to translate that message into action is not. That ability would depend upon to what extent he has been able to convince his own party on the need for hard decisions and to what extent he can depend on its backing for mobilising the support of the people.
The country has been passing through not only severe economic difficulties, but also a crisis of confidence and national self-esteem caused by widespread allegations of corruption, nepotism and malgovernance. Large sections of the people, rightly or wrongly, share the views of the detractors of the Prime Minister that he and his party have brought the country to the present pass.
He is the leader of the Government, but not the leader of the party. His word is not law in the party. It is Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s word that prevails in the party and not his. That is the public perception. Not unjustified.
It was a statesmanlike address, dignified, non-partisan, non-polemic and non-apologetic. To deliver an address of such high quality marked by determination is easy, but to translate it into action is not. Translating it into action would depend on his determination to assert himself as the Prime Minister in the remaining months of his office and to function as he ought to function. Till now the public perception has been that he has been the most non-assertive Prime Minister the country has had.
To reverse that perception, he has to convey a clear message to Mrs Sonia Gandhi and the party—thus far and no further. His message needed to be addressed to a third audience—Mrs Sonia Gandhi and the Congress Party. That he could not have done in a televised address to the nation. He has to convey his message separately to Mrs Sonia Gandhi and the Party. He has already made it clear to them that there can be no roll-back on the hard economic decisions already taken. He has to make it clear now that more hard decisions are required and he is determined to take them.
He has also to convey a clear message to the other political parties in the opposition as well as in his own ruling coalition. He must make it clear to them that if they do not co-operate he and the Congress will not hesitate to seek a fresh mandate of the people by going for premature elections, if necessary.
If the Prime Minister has to translate his message into action, he and his party should rid themselves of the fear of premature elections. If they win and come back with a renewed mandate, well and good. If they do not, let whoever wins take over the responsibility for pulling the country out of its difficulties.
By B Raman
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi)