This man has already achieved what no other non-member of the Gandhi family has ever done. The closest to his record is Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was Prime Minister for six consecutive years between 1998 and 2004. P. V. Narasimha Rao is another non- Gandhi who completed 5 uninterrupted years as the Prime Minister. The next best is a Gandhi family member Rajiv Gandhi, who led the government between 1984 and 1989. No other Prime Minister – except Jawaharhal Nehru and Indira Gandhi – has survived five uninterrupted years as Prime Minister. Nehru was PM continuously from 1947 till his death in 1964. Indira Gandhi was PM between 1966 and 1984, except for a two and half year exile between 1977 and end-1979. The way things are changing in Indian society and economy in terms of aspirations and expectations, even die-hard supporters of Congress will snigger at the suggestion that Rahul Gandhi could be Prime Minister for 10 consecutive years beginning 2014. So there is absolutely no doubt that, in a factual context, Manmohan Singh has already secured his place in history. It is a different matter that an ‘unelectable’ bureaucrat completing 10 successive years as Prime Minister reflects on the quality and the depth of Indian democracy. But credit must be given. Manmohan Singh will almost certainly complete 10 years as PM. But will history talk about him and his lengthy tenure the way it will keep dissecting the track record of Nehru and Indira? For that matter, forget Nehru and Indira, will he ever acquire the stature that even Vajpayee has assured for himself? Let’s look at it in another, more blunt manner: will history ever talk about the legacy left behind by Manmohan Singh? Quite frankly, history books will confine him to a supporting role at best as they analyze the legacy of Sonia Gandhi. Sad, but Dr. Singh will leave behind no legacy: faceless bureaucrats who selflessly do the bidding of political masters never do so. And yet the man, the economist, the bureaucrat, the courtier and the reluctant politician knows that he has achieved something phenomenal by becoming Prime Minister for two consecutive terms. And even faceless bureaucrats have egos and dreams. There is no doubt whatsoever that Dr. Singh knows his days as Prime Minister are numbered. He knows that even if the UPA manages to win another term in 2014 and Rahul Gandhi decides he is better
off enacting the role of Sonia Gandhi by pulling the strings from behind the scenes, it is another courtier who would be anointed Prime Minister. He also knows that fawning Congressmen will instantly delete him from even contemporary footnotes the moment another courtier takes his post. I mean, if they don’t care a fig about him even now when he is the Prime Minister, what chance would he have as an elderly statesman without even the fig leaf of perceived power and authority? Surely, it must be rankling. It would rankle any normal human being with normal feelings and human emotions. And Dr. Singh is undoubtedly the embodiment of middle class normalcy. This is where India begins to enter very dangerous times. Dr. Singh would be determined to leave at least some legacy behind. He is not a fool. He knows there is no chance of a political legacy of the kind left behind by Nehru, Indira and Vajpayee. He also knows that history books will credit not him, but Narasimha Rao as the architect of economic reforms. In fact, in terms of economic performance, his long tenure as PM would be torn to shreds by objective historians. Do remember, he was aware of all this even back in 2008 when it was not certain that the UPA would be voted back to power.
So he sought to leave his personal legacy behind through the Indo-US nuclear deal. His crowning moment was the George W. Bush visit to India and the signing of the controversial deal. So determined was he to leave at least this legacy behind that the normally diffident and reticent man staked everything on the deal. He literally left his party bosses, including Sonia Gandhi, with no option but to cobble together a majority in the Parliament when the Left, which supported UPA-1, withdrew support over the nuclear deal. We then had the disgrace of the cash for votes scam, something that is yet to be honestly investigated. His deal with Sonia Gandhi was clear: he would chase a foreign policy legacy al la Nehru and not murmur as Congress politicians unleashed economically dangerous populism like farm loan waivers and assorted welfare schemes that now look like bottomless holes. The deal worked. But not even partisans can say yet if the Indo-US nuclear deal is a success. The fact is, it will probably be at least 2020 before even one nuclear power plant as envisaged by the deal comes up. And post the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan, and the stubborn resistance – motivated or not – to the 25-year old Kundakullam nuclear plant, it is anybody’s guess if all the hype about nuclear energy solving India’s power sector problems will actually come true.
Like his tenure was coming to an end in 2008, Dr. Singh knows that 2013 will be the last year of his tenure; this time for good. He still can’t leave a political legacy behind. There is nothing in the domestic arena where he can leave a mark: that would be reserved for the Gandhi family. So out of compulsion, Dr. Singh is again looking through the foreign policy prism to ensure that he leaves behind at least a modicum of a legacy.
It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out which direction he is headed. It has been clear for quite some time that Dr. Singh is eyeing Pakistan as his enduring legacy. I mean, if a Prime Minister can actually mend relations with Pakistan to the point where even the Kashmir issue would appear solved, his place in history would be doubly assured. It is that temptation that is driving him and his government to adopt policies and take postures that will do incalculable damage to India’s long terms interests and security.
But before we come to that, let us look at the devastatingly dangerous implications of the deal he seems to have struck with his political bosses this time. Unlike 2008, when high growth rates and buoyant tax revenues had given the government enough resources to play Santa with, the situation is going to be alarmingly different in 2013. The India growth story is in a state of coma, if not already dead. The fiscal deficit is unsustainable. International ratings agencies are threatening to downgrade India’s sovereign debt to junk status. Indian entrepreneurs are voting with their money and feet by preferring to invest in overseas markets. In 2013, India will badly need good economic policy making to rescue it out of the current mess. But rest assured, Dr. Singh will not bat an economist eyelid as his political bosses unleash a tsunami of welfare schemes to ensure that the political odds will be stacked in favour of Rahul Gandhi in 2014. Believe me, he might have personal and private regrets and remorse, but he will not lift an eyebrow in protest as the Indian economy is sucker punched by populism in 2013. Nor will he protest when brazen forms of crony capitalism – FDI in retail, FDI in civil aviation style – will be pushed in the name of bold economic reforms. No Sir: Dr. Singh may know his economics, but he is currently obsessed with history and his shaky place in it. Do even die-hard supporters of the Dynasty and the UPA realize the massive damage all this will do to future economic growth in India? And how poor economic growth will kill dreams of tens of millions of poor Indians who are struggling to join the ranks of the lower middle class? And what would Dr. Singh gain through this Faustian bargain? Does he honestly think that the military establishment of Pakistan and the ruling elite of that country are genuinely interested in a genuine peace deal with India? Why, their very rationale for existence will wither away if India actually changes from being the eternal enemy to a friendly neighbour! To expect the ruling elite of Pakistan to willingly commit hara kiri to allow Dr. Singh an enduring legacy is so naive that it would be laughable, were it not so dangerous. Look at what Rehman Malik said during and after his “friendly” visit to India. He juxtaposed 26/11 with the demolition of Babri Masjid. He said Jundal is an Indian agent. He said there is no evidence against the LeT and its chief. He said that India is instigating separatism in Balochistan. He said everything that the ruling elite of Pakistan have been saying for six decades and more. I shudder to think if a desperate Dr. Singh offers a friendly gesture in Siachen.
And don’t forget the most viciously cynical political calculation behind this race for a Pakistan legacy. Mending fences with Pakistan will encourage Indian Muslims to vote for the UPA in 2014. Believe me, many Congressmen are actually thinking along those lines.
God help India.