It was an exercise in evasions, half-truths, obfuscations, and even plain lies. For seventy-five minutes in his only third meeting with the national press corps in New Delhi on Friday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, true to type, said nothing of significance but took a long time in saying it. He said he would not be available for leading the UPA-III government. A majority of Congressmen would have reacted with an unconcealed glee; good riddance would have been the response of the more ambitious among them, holding him guilty of ruining their re-election prospects. In any case, Singh withdrawing his claim to lead the UPA-III government was purely academic, especially since there seems, as of now, no chance in hell of its returning to power. While still at it, one may ask when was Singh the formal prime ministerial candidate of the UPA? Certainly not in May 2004, when Sonia Gandhi opted out for extraordinary reasons and nominated him to the high post. And after the 2009 surprise victory, had she wanted to nominate someone else as prime minister, Singh would have had no one to root for him in the Congress parliamentary party. In other words, Singh withdrawing himself from the prime ministerial race in 2014 is of little significance. Sheer non-news. What else did he say that was of great import? Well, he chose rather harsh words for Narendra Modi. That was wholly uncharacteristic of him. The only explanation for his abusive description of Modi would be that he was keen to earn brownie points from his bosses in the Congress Party. He is no astrologer or future-reader, to claim that a Modi prime ministry would be disastrous, a description more appropriate for the UPA-II than any other central government in recent years. Raking up the Gujarat riots and drawing up the grotesque imagery of `bodies lying on the Ahemdabad roads’ showed the prime minister in rather poor taste. The 2002 riots have been debated ad nauseam, probed endlessly by the central government-appointed investigators, and milked by various Congress-blessed NGO entrepreneurs, yet no prosecutable evidence has surfaced against Modi. But Singh and his ilk would beat the dead horse of the Gujarat riots because they feel threatened by his growing challenge to their cosy positions after the coming general elections. Indeed, in Modi, the parasitic political class sees a huge threat, since he is known not to brook any corruption or wrongdoing. However, the PM was guilty of outright evasion when he did not say a word edgeways about the continuing misery of the victims of the Muzaffarnagar riots which, he should recall, have occurred under his watch. Playing the communal card to beat Modi, but thorough silence to absolve the Samajwadi Government shows the opportunistic streak of the PM. He was not even ready to accept the blame for humongous scams, saying that the 2G and Coalgate scams had occurred in UPA-I and since the people had reelected them to power these were of no consequence. He said only the media and the Opposition obsessed about corruption scams. Here again, the PM sounded no different from the large number of criminal legislators who believe that election to Parliament or assemblies made their crimes irrelevant.
On the economy, the same evasive streak was on display. He most disingenuously claimed credit for the record nine per cent growth in 2004-05 without admitting that that was made possible by the previous NDA Government and the UPA had little or no role to play in it. Because the business cycle was set in motion by the Vajpayee Government, the high growth rate of 8.3 per cent in 2003-04 led to nine per cent growth in the first year of the UPA, while the latter’s non-governance and policy paralysis showed up in abysmally low growth rates in the subsequent years. It is a poor comment on the performance of the PM that in the last year of UPA-II it may be hard for the GDP growth to reach the five-per cent mark. The PM was unwilling to concede that his public standing was low, insisting that history would take a kinder view of his performance. Unless historians are courtiers, there cannot be any doubt that Singh would go down as one of the worst prime ministers. Period. Meanwhile, the question that needs to be asked is as why the sphinx was made to speak if he had nothing much to say. After all, he is in no position to block Rahul Gandhi’s candidature for the prime minister’s post. His saying he wasn’t available to lead an unlikely UPA Government after the next election is therefore neither here nor there. Maybe Singh met the press only to talk about his saintliness and his flawless character, which did not permit any wrongdoing by his ministers in the last ten years. The PM needs a reality check. Self-delusion can prove further destructive for the electoral chances of the UPA. Expose him more to the media and whatever residual goodwill he may still enjoy will evaporate.