a Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s uncharacteristic action of leading a march of solidarity to the residence of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday is an indication that the grand old party is both worried and nervous over the summons served on the former Prime Minister as an accused by a CBI trial court hearing the infamous Coalgate scam. Normally, no political party tries to pre-judge an issue before a court of law and these demonstrations are usually left to the youth wing (in this case the Youth Congress). But two days before she completed 17 years in office, Sonia Gandhi took it upon herself to ask members of the Working Committee and senior colleagues to accompany her to meet Singh and his wife. While every Congressman thereafter is keen to give a clean chit to the former PM, the perception is that summons to Singh should also be interpreted as summons to the Congress, which ruled the Centre for ten years along with its allies from 2004 to 2014.
Most people believe that Singh was a weak Prime Minister, who, in order to protect his chair, complied with the directions he received from his party, even though his personal integrity was never in doubt. But by being a mute spectator to dozens of scams that came to the public domain, he allowed his own image to be sullied. There were endless admirers who found it difficult to defend his silence on several vital matters and thereby conceded that though he was above suspicion, he had inadvertently abetted some wrong actions of his government by not preventing them when he was in a position to do so.
If Sonia Gandhi expressed her solidarity with Singh on Thursday, it was primarily also out of fear that the current dispensation could investigate cases, which may show her in poor light. The Congress party is conscious that Singh, during his Prime Ministership, probably kept a record through his aides of requests made by senior functionaries for getting projects cleared.
There are also a large number of people who feel that if the country has been able to shed its image of being a land of snake charmers, Singh’s contribution cannot be undermined. It was under Singh’s stewardship of the Finance Ministry that the first steps were taken for making our economy global. His standing as an economist of world repute was never in doubt and till the time he occupied the august office of India’s Prime Minister, Singh had the best bio-data amongst various heads of government.
But it is not accurate when a case is made out to defend Singh that he was a totally apolitical person, who was used by the Congress to serve its own ends. Singh, under the garb of an apolitical mask, perhaps always understood the dynamics of power and how levers within government and politics operate. He could not have made it to the Governorship of the Reserve Bank had he not had political masters backing his merit. There are positions within the bureaucracy and the system which cannot be held unless there is political patronage.
Former Prime Minister, the late Chandrashekhar once narrated an incident about Singh, which many may find it hard to believe. He said that after he had tendered his resignation and cleared his files in 1991, he was informed by his secretary, the late Gautam that Manmohan Singh had been waiting for a couple of hours to meet him. He summoned him inside and Singh, who was an adviser in his government, with folded hands requested him to do something for him before he demits office as he had a family to look after. He then pleaded with the former Prime Minister to make him the chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC), a position that was vacant. Out of compassion, Chandrashekhar did the unusual thing of calling for the file and issued orders, making him the UGC chairman. This narration has been in public domain for over nearly 24 years and has never been contradicted by anyone. If it is true, it is not a good reflection on the “apolitical” Singh.
If Sonia Gandhi expressed her solidarity with Singh on Thursday, it was primarily also out of fear that the current dispensation could investigate cases, which may show her in poor light. The Congress party is conscious that Singh, during his Prime Ministership, probably kept a record through his aides of requests made by senior functionaries for getting projects cleared. If this is true, naturally many in the party shall have much to worry about. The UPA, during its regime, also prosecuted many BJP and Sangh sympathisers and there could be a reprisal of that in the future.
There are questions being asked why the Congress had not expressed solidarity with Suresh Kalmadi when he was arrested, since he was perhaps not the only one who could be accused of irregularities, if any, in the Commonwealth Games scam. Why did the Congress not express solidarity with Singh when the ordinance approved by the Cabinet was torn at a press conference by Rahul Gandhi while he was abroad?
Singh has to wait till his name is cleared by the judicial process. The strength of our democracy is that even an (ex) Prime Minister can be a subject of judicial scrutiny. Between us.