By T S Sudhir
“There was no alternative to crackdown at Ramlila grounds.” : Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India
By ducking under TINA, Dr Singh let himself down in the eyes of millions of his admirers. And suddenly the epithets like `weak’, `lameduck’, `powerless’ that are thrown at him, are beginning to stick.
For close to 36 hours, the country waited for the top executive in the country to respond to what appeared an unnecessary act of barbarism, captured on national television. He reacted but sadly only after India was shocked by still pictures of Rajbala Malik. The 51-year-old has slipped into coma at a Delhi hospital, after being at the receiving end of Delhi Police’s `With you, for you, always’ treatment.
It was as if those who planned this midnight drill for the Delhi Police thought of how “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan will awake to life and freedom.” Freedom, I suppose, from the `blackmail’ tactics of civil society that by its frequent pangs of hunger, wants the government to become a puppet of the people, by the people and for the people !
But my heart goes out to Dr Manmohan Singh. The learned economist, credited with ushering in the liberalisation era in the 90s, is now presiding over a regime that is going back to the license raj. Where the men in power decide if anyone has the licence to question them.
I don’t envy Dr Singh. He certainly has the toughest job in the country. A job that offers few perks. He presides over a government whose remote control is operated from 10, Janpath. And there are murmurs that lawyer-turned-ministers M/s Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal have become a law unto themselves. Worse, Manmohan has to defend his government’s darkest hour. The financial wizard that he is, he should know this is a rank bad investment and that he should exit and cut his losses.
The Prime minister has only to look in the direction of Tihar Jail to realise that the prison is fast turning into an `India Habitat Centre’ for his political friends. And with 2G showing no signs of showing low battery, corruption as an issue does not look like it will disappear from the political menu card.
The problem is MMS does not even throw tantrums, a la Atal Behari Vajpayee. The former Prime minister, needled more than necessary by the L K Advani – Venkaiah Naidu duo, showed them their place with his “Na tire na retire” googly. Here, Dr Singh is not even making an attempt to show the nation his real face. Is `Singh is King’ as spindoctors sometimes make him out to be? I feel as if the men around him have forced him to wear boxing gloves and thrown him into the ring, when he has not even warmed up for the event. It hardly seems likely that a man of Dr Singh’s demeanour would order 1000 (or was it 5000?) armed policemen to go berserk over a group of 50000 `sleeping masses’ in the dead of night.
What makes Dr Singh’s position even more difficult is that he has friends like Manish Tewari and Digvijay Singh to defend him. Diggy Raja thinks his tu tu main main with Baba `thug’ Ramdev and anti-RSS diatribe will win him the elections in Uttar Pradesh.
Tewari, deciding offence is the best form of defence, conjures up a magnificent tale of how these 50000 sleeping men and women were plotting to destabilise the government. He is perhaps swayed by the high-decibel snoring by a majority of those 50000 to liken the situation to that on December 6, 1992, when the Babri Masjid was brought down by kar sevaks. And finally, the icing on the cake, is when he reminds the nation of those who were responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. So Mr Tewari, was Saturday night an Abbottabad for 30 January 1948?
Baba Ramdev may not have the cleanest of records. If he is not, raid his ashrams, interrogate him, arrest him if needed. But to hold that information in your briefcase and use that as a blackmailing tool, is not something India expects from leaders of Pranab Mukherjee’s stature. And if picking up Ramdev was the intention, why punish 50000 innocent men, women and children. Wasn’t it to send a message that support these representatives of civil society at your own peril?
I have always dismissed Advani’s snipe at Dr Singh, calling him a weak prime minister, as a case of sour grapes. After Saturday night, I however, think he has a point. It is high time, Manmohan Singh wakes up and smells the coffee. Because a large part of India after Saturday night, is wondering if Iss raat ki subah nahin.