THE ABAN­DONED

In­sulted by Rahul Gandhi, ig­nored by the party and let down by loy­al­ists, the iso­lated Prime Min­is­ter re­fuses to re­sign but is de­ter­mined to redeem his tainted legacy

India Today - - THE BIG STORY - By Bhavna Vij- Aurora and Ku­mar Anshuman

The fallen find few friends in pol­i­tics. Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh re­alised this bit­ter truth when Rahul Gandhi ve­toed his Gov­ern­ment’s or­di­nance on con­victed politi­cians. Al­ways a gen­tle­man and con­scious of how much he is in­debted to the benev­o­lence of 10 Jan­path for his job, Man­mo­han suf­fered the pub­lic hu­mil­i­a­tion in si­lence. No so­lace came from his col­leagues. There was only the fam­ily— his own— to lean back on. On Oc­to­ber 1, a day af­ter re­turn­ing from his trip to the US, daugh­ters Da­man Singh and Upin­der Singh urged him over din­ner at his 7 Race Course Road home to “give it all up” and go back to teach­ing, only to be stonewalled by a stan­dard re­sponse: “I have a re­spon­si­bil­ity and can’t turn my back on it.”

The Prime Min­is­ter is, how­ever, a dis­ap­pointed man. And it was most ap­par­ent dur­ing the Cab­i­net meet­ing on Oc­to­ber 3 when the bi­fur­ca­tion of Andhra Pradesh was be­ing dis­cussed. As two min­is­ters from the state, M. M. Pal­lam Raju and K. S. Rao, rose an­grily and protested against the cre­ation of Te­lan­gana, all eyes were on the man pre­sid­ing over the meet­ing. “Man­mo­han Singh sat zen- like through­out with­out ut­ter­ing a word. When he was asked to take a call, he sim­ply pointed to Union Home Min­is­ter Sushilku­mar Shinde, and said that it is his min­istry’s is­sue and he’ll de­fend it,” said a min­is­ter who at­tended the meet­ing. It took Shinde two hours to forge a con­sen­sus, but not be­fore agree­ing to set up a group of min­is­ters to ad­dress the is­sues aris­ing out of the pro­posed bi­fur­ca­tion.

The Prime Min­is­ter did not ex­press any view. “No, he was not sulk­ing be­cause of the pub­lic snub by Rahul Gandhi, and the fact that he had been forced to with­draw the con­tro­ver­sial or­di­nance on con­victed politi­cians just a day ear­lier. This is how Man­mo­han Singh has be­come in the past few years— dis­tant and aloof to the point of in­dif­fer­ence,” says a con­fi­dant. He barely con­trib­utes to Cab­i­net meet­ings, and leaves it to the min­is­ter con­cerned to in­tro­duce, ex­plain and then de­fend the Cab­i­net note.

Congress Vice- Pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi’s out­burst on the or­di­nance, terming it “non­sense”, and the Prime Min­is­ter’s re­fusal to re­spond, has only un­der­lined the per­cep­tion that he is a pushover. His de­tached de­fence—“I don’t get up­set eas­ily. There is no ques­tion of re­sign­ing”— did not win him many ad­mir­ers. With less than six months to go for the 2014 Lok Sabha elec­tions, Congress would just wish Man­mo­han away if it could, but only af­ter heap­ing the blame for ev­ery­thing that is wrong with UPA 2 on him.

With CBI wait­ing at his doorstep in con­nec­tion with the Coalgate scam, the Prime Min­is­ter wants to utlilise his last few months in power to clear his name, fear­ing hound­ing by the agency once he walks away. His trusted aide and ad­viser TKA Nair has al­ready been ques­tioned by CBI once. “If he quits now, the Prime Min­is­ter will be in a big­ger soup. He is stuck in the cor­ner he has been pushed into. He can’t rely on the coun­try’s At­tor­ney Gen­eral ( G. E. Va­han­vati), who owes his al­le­giance to peo­ple close to Congress Pres­i­dent So­nia Gandhi,” says a source close to Man­mo­han.

The of­fi­cial PMO stand is that there is noth­ing to im­pli­cate the Prime Min­is­ter in Coalgate and that he sent off ev­ery­thing with the note “for ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion” to the coal sec­re­tary. But the fact re­mains that Man­mo­han is

wor­ried and has been forced to ap­proach pri­vate lawyers for help. “The fear is, Man­mo­han Singh may suf­fer the fate of another non- fam­ily Congress prime min­is­ter, the late P. V. Narasimha Rao,” says one of the lawyers. Soon af­ter demit­ting of­fice, Rao faced charges in the Jhark­hand Mukti Mor­cha bribery case and St Kitts case. Over the years, Congress has also tried to un­der­mine Rao’s legacy in ush­er­ing eco­nomic re­forms in the coun­try with his then fi­nance min­is­ter, Man­mo­han.

ALONE ATTHE TOP

The Prime Min­is­ter sees him­self as stand­ing alone at the end of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. The min­is­ters he could trust in the Cab­i­net are no longer there. The so- called Chandigarh Club has been de­mol­ished. Ash­wani Ku­mar had to re­sign as law min­is­ter when he tried to ma­nip­u­late CBI’S probe into Coalgate. Pawan Bansal had to quit as rail­ways min­is­ter af­ter his nephew was found med­dling in min­istry ap­point­ments for money. Man­mo­han can only claim Law Min­is­ter Kapil Sibal as a loy­al­ist. How­ever, sources say even Sibal is dis­il­lu­sioned with the way the Prime Min­is­ter is al­low­ing Congress to run roughshod over him. Sibal was not in favour of bring­ing the or­di­nance to pro­tect con­victed politi­cians, es­pe­cially since the bill was pend­ing with the par­lia­men­tary stand­ing com­mit­tee. Ac­cord­ing to sources, he had ex­plained it to Man­mo­han, who had tried to raise the is­sue of pro­pri­ety in the Congress core com­mit­tee meet­ing, headed by So­nia, which ap­proved the or­di­nance. “Sibal agreed to it only af­ter the Prime Minis-

THE PRIME MIN­IS­TER’S AU­THOR­ITY HAS BEEN SYS­TEM­AT­I­CALLY WHIT­TLED DOWN IN HIS SEC­OND TEN­URE. HE HAS NOW CEDED HIS AU­THOR­ITY OF MAK­ING AP­POINT­MENTS EVEN IN THE PMO.

ter re­quested him to do so. When he was asked to with­draw it on Oc­to­ber 2, Sibal made his dis­plea­sure known, with­out minc­ing any words,” a source in the law min­istry claims.

Sibal is not the only one who is un­happy. San­jaya Baru, the Prime Min­is­ter’s me­dia ad­viser dur­ing UPA 1, is vo­cal about how the Gand­his are try­ing to strip Man­mo­han of any credit for any of the achieve­ments of the Gov­ern­ment. “The en­tire ar­range­ment be­tween the Prime Min­is­ter and the party has been that So­nia, and now Rahul, get all credit for the good the Gov­ern­ment does, and the Prime Min­is­ter gets the blame for all the bad,” Baru told IN­DIA TO­DAY over email.

Now di­rec­tor for Geo- eco­nom­ics and Strat­egy at the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies, Sin­ga­pore, Baru also touched upon the iso­la­tion of Man­mo­han in UPA 2. “In UPA 1, some of us re­sisted this ( the Prime Min­is­ter get­ting the blame for ev­ery­thing bad), and Singh was ‘ king’ af­ter the nu­clear deal. In UPA 2 no one re­sisted this, so Man­mo­han is now seen as ‘ sink­ing’,” he added. On be­ing asked why Man­mo­han isn’t quit­ting, Baru replied, “I

guess he has not re­signed partly be­cause he has come to terms with this ar­range­ment, and partly out of a sense of loy­alty to So­nia and the party. In the process the in­sti­tu­tion of the prime min­is­ter has been di­min­ished.”

The Prime Min­is­ter’s au­thor­ity has been sys­tem­at­i­cally whit­tled down in his sec­ond ten­ure. For a per­son who took on the bu­reau­cracy by ap­point­ing Shyam Saran for­eign sec­re­tary in 2004, su­per­sed­ing sev­eral IFS of­fi­cers, Man­mo­han has now ceded his au­thor­ity of mak­ing ap­point­ments even in the PMO. In July 2011, nine of the Prime Min­is­ter’s trusted of­fi­cials were packed off from PMO cit­ing the seven- year ceil­ing on dep­u­ta­tion. Th­ese in­cluded his sec­re­tary M. N. Prasad, ad­di­tional sec­re­tary R. Gopalakr­ish­nan, joint sec­re­taries Pankaj Saran, San­jay Mitra and Vini Ma­ha­jan, as well as four di­rec­tors.

That wasn’t the first time that the PMO had been re­cast. Man­mo­han’s pri­vate sec­re­tary BVR Subrah­manyam was sent out in 2008; Baru left for Sin­ga­pore around the same time. So­nia’s trusted lieu­tenant Pu­lok Chat­terji, who was then joint sec­re­tary in PMO, also left for a World Bank as­sign­ment. How­ever, he was made to cut short his ten­ure and in­stalled in PMO again in 2011. M. K. Narayanan, who

THE PM’S ‘ CHANDIGARH CLUB’ IS GONE. ASH­WANI KU­MAR RE­SIGNED AS LAW MIN­IS­TER IN THE WAKE OF COALGATE. PAWAN BANSAL QUIT RAIL­WAYS AF­TER HIS NEPHEW WAS AC­CUSED OF GRAFT.

was na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser since J. N. Dixit’s death in 2006, was despatched as gov­er­nor of West Ben­gal in 2010.

The Prime Min­is­ter man­aged to re­tain only Nair from his orig­i­nal group of trusted of­fi­cials. A Pun­jab- cadre IAS of­fi­cer, Nair was cho­sen by Man­mo­han to be his prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary when he took over as prime min­is­ter in 2004. When Chat­terji was brought in as prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary, the Prime Min­is­ter dug in his heels to re­tain Nair as his ad­viser.

OUT­LIV­ING HIS WEL­COME

Man­mo­han has re­alised his time in the Gov­ern­ment is over. Per­haps he jumped the gun on April 5, when dur­ing his in­ter­ac­tion with the me­dia at Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van af­ter pre­sen­ta­tion of the Padma awards, he said that he did not “rule out or rule in” a third term for him­self. That was the point when he lost trust as an im­plicit loy­al­ist of the Gandhi fam­ily. He tried to make amends when, on his way back from the G- 20 Sum­mit in St Peters­burg on Septem­ber 8, he ex­pressed will­ing­ness to work “hap­pily” for Congress un­der Rahul’s lead­er­ship.

Re­al­is­ing he has lit­tle to con­trib­ute to the Gov­ern­ment at this late stage, Man­mo­han has de­cided to work on his core ar­eas— econ­omy and for­eign

pol­icy. He be­lieves he has put the econ­omy on the right track by ap­point­ing Raghu­ram Ra­jan as RBI gov­er­nor. Now that the cur­rency has sta­bilised, the new gov­er­nor’s fo­cus is on curb­ing de­pen­dence on ex­ter­nal sources of fund­ing and en­cour­ag­ing do­mes­tic sav­ings.

Sources close to the Prime Min­is­ter say that he is not look­ing at any ma­jor long- term pol­icy but will take it one month at a time. His itin­er­ary in the next few months is packed with for­eign trips. On Oc­to­ber 9, he left on a four­day visit to Brunei for the ASEAN sum­mit, and In­done­sia in a bid to push the Gov­ern­ment’s ‘ Look East’ pol­icy.

Soon af­ter, he will leave for Rus­sia and China on Oc­to­ber 20. He is likely to sign cru­cial pacts with both the coun­tries on trade, busi­ness and en­ergy, things he con­strues as ‘ fix­ing the ex­ter­nal econ­omy fac­tors’. With Moscow, Man­mo­han is ex­pected to as­sure Pres­i­dent Vlad­mir Putin on con­cerns over In­dia’s nu­clear li­a­bil­ity law and also on the safety of Rus­sian in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing in the tele­com sec­tor. Re­solv­ing the nu­clear li­a­bil­ity is­sue is cru­cial for a con­tract for sup­ply of Rus­sian re­ac­tors for Units 3 and 4 of the Ku­danku­lam Nu­clear Power Project. With Bei­jing, he may ar­tic­u­late In­dia’s con­cerns over trans- bor­der rivers, trade deficit and bound­ary flare- ups.

On his re­cently con­cluded visit to the US, Man­mo­han made an ef­fort to reach out to for­eign in­vestors and tried to al­le­vi­ate con­cerns about un­pre­dictabil­ity of tax­a­tion law. He re­ferred to the Parthasarathi Shome Com­mit­tee re­port on the con­tro­ver­sial tax pro­posal, which has rec­om­mended that im­ple­men­ta­tion of Gen­eral Anti- Avoid­ance Rules ( GAAR) should be de­ferred by three years to April 2017.

Re­gard­ing his meet­ing with Pak­istan Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif in New York, in the back­drop of the in­fil­tra­tion bid at Keran in Jammu and Kash­mir, sources in the PMO claim Man­mo­han was very firm with him. “He told Sharif he hadn’t be­come the PM to bar­gain over In­dia’s bor­ders,” a source says. At the same time, the Prime Min­is­ter has not given up on peace with Pak­istan, some­thing that he hopes will be his en­dur­ing legacy.

Novem­ber has been kept aside for can­vass­ing for As­sem­bly and then Lok Sabha elec­tions. How­ever, nei­ther the Congress of­fice nor PMO has re­ceived a sin­gle re­quest for Man­mo­han to cam­paign in any state. “It is not the Prime

PMO SOURCES SAY EVEN THOUGH MAN­MO­HAN SINGH HAS NOT GIVEN UP ON PEACE WITH PAK­ISTAN, HE TOLD NAWAZ SHARIF IN NEW YORK THAT HE WOULD NOT BAR­GAIN OVER IN­DIA’S BOR­DERS.

Min­is­ter’s fault. He is just not an in­spi­ra­tional speaker. But we’re chalk­ing out a cam­paign itin­er­ary for him. Af­ter all, he is still Prime Min­is­ter,” says a Congress gen­eral sec­re­tary.

Treated like the prime ob­ject of hu­mil­i­a­tion, Man­mo­han Singh is stoic as ever. He is de­ter­mined to make the best of his last six months in of­fice, even if it is a lone bat­tle to re­gain hon­our— and redeem a tainted legacy. Fol­low the writ­ers on Twit­ter @ Bhav­naVij and @ an­shu­man_ says For more pic­tures of Man­mo­han Singh, go to www. indiatoday. in/ doc- pics

Www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

PRIME MIN­IS­TER MAN­MO­HAN SINGH

REUTERS

( FROM LEFT, FRON­TROW) RAHULGANDHI, SO­NIA GANDHI AND MAN­MO­HAN SINGH ATAYOUTH CONGRESS RALLY

SIPRA DAS/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

ASH­WANI KU­MAR ( LEFT)

AND PAWAN BANSAL

REUTERS

PAK­ISTAN’S PRIME MIN­IS­TER NAWAZ SHARIF ( LEFT) WITH MAN­MO­HAN SINGH IN NEWYORK

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