By Sushil Kutty
As usual Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to field a cabinet minister to field questions posed to him on his government and his governance style. In the latest such instance, it was former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who forced Modi to cringe. The famously “quiet” Singh descended on Prime Minister Modi’s boasts and barbs against Nehru and Indira Gandhi like a tonne of bricks, targeting the Prime Minister for “blaming the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru for its failed policies.”
The former Prime Minister was speaking for the Congress and the Opposition at large. “The situation is worrisome. People are suffering the consequences of the policies of the Centre. But the Centre, instead of accepting its failed policies, is busy blaming the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru,” he said in his video message, which caught the Modi Government on its left foot, completely unprepared.
But then, whoever ever thought there would be a rebuttal to Modi targeting Nehru in a speech in Parliament decades after the first Prime Minister of India left this earth to Modi and the rest of his ilk. In his reply to the debate on the President’s address in Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had mentioned Jawaharlal Nehru multiple times, emphasizing “today I will only talk of Nehru.”
At one point, quoting from an Independence Day speech Nehru made from the ramparts of the Red Fort, Modi said Nehru was “helpless” when “war in Korea” impacted prices of commodities in India. “The first PM of the country was helpless. Pandit Nehru also said if something happens in America, it affects the prices of our commodities.”
Juxtaposing then and now, Narendra Modi said that if the Congress were ruling India “now”, it would have blamed inflation on Covid-19 and run away. “Nehru left Goa to fend for itself to protect his global image. He let satyagrahis in Goa march to their deaths in 1955.”
Just the other day, on February 16, 2022, in a speech in Punjab, addressing an election rally, Narendra Modi had launched a frontal assault on Nehru and Indira Gandhi for their failure to annex Kartarpur Sahib, allowing “three chances to go to waste—in 1947, 1965 and 1971.”
Modi and Manmohan Singh are a study in contrast. Twitterati, a day after the former Prime Minister threw his gauntlet into the ring, were calling Singh uncut diamond and asking people who were denigrating him, “mocking the Kohinoor”, to feel ashamed. “What are you all denigrating him, and for what? That he didn’t send ‘ppl’ to jail for jokes? Gave 7.7% GDP? Didn’t spend billions on personal marketing? Didn’t have an army of trolls to descend on anybody?”
Singh had a quiet gravitas to Modi’s “charisma and oratory”. His “wispy voice, meek demeanour and complete lack of either political capital or fan-following across India” would not worked in these days of the pandemic, said a journalist in 2020, soon after Modi rang in the first lockdown with “taali and thali”. The fact is UPA 1 & 2 reflected the personality of Manmohan Singh who in one word was “supportive” to Modi’s “assertive.”
Singh, to people who knew him, was an embodiment of quiet power, who lay importance to institutions and systems. Stand Modi alongside and it is “local is vocal” powered by a loud personality. Modi contrasting Nehru and Indira Gandhi with himself is war versus surgical strikes, the call of the times. What stops Modi from taking Kartarpur, in his closet Modi does have the hijab or the burqa to worry about what Pakistan will do or not do?
Manmohan Singh in his short video address to the people of Punjab said he would have liked to be in Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh in these days of elections but couldn’t. He said he found it odd that even “eight-and-half-years” of rule, the Modi Government was looking to shift the blame of its shortcomings on others. Hitting directly at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Singh said the “Prime Minister’s Office has a special stature”, meaning he found it lacking in today’s PM!
Contrasting his rule with that of the current incumbent’s, Manmohan Singh that while Modi was attempting to shift blame and escape accountability, he spoke less and remained quiet, instead letting his work speak for him. In his own soft manner, Singh gave Modi a lashing that has been reverberating ever since.
Modi’s rebuttal to Manmohan Singh’s trenchant critique of Modi’s speeches inside and outside Parliament came from Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who true to form put the blame on Manmohan Singh for doing nothing much to bring the economy out of the mess it allegedly was in during UPA rule. She advised Singh not to try to “pull down India when it is counted as the fastest growing economy” in the world. She said she did not “expect this from you.” (IPA Service)