By Sushil Kutty
Two-time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is wheelchair-bound though mentally alert, will no longer be an active politician even if it’s a cinch that he will be sought out on occasion to get a quip on issues and people. Like, for example, on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is years younger than Manmohan Singh but has been quite free with bad vibes for the former Prime Minister whose quiet demeanour covered up for a steely resolve as displayed during the days of the contentious Indo-US civil nuclear deal.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s references to Dr. Manmohan Singh never ever covered Modi with glory and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh never took notice of Modi till the day before Modi succeeded him to the top job. It was odd therefore listening to Modi wax eloquent on Manmohan Singh as a bunch of Rajya Sabha MPs bid farewell to the Upper House on February 9.
With that Manmohan Singh’s “five-decade-long storied career” also came to an end. Singh was a technocrat- politician and the only people he played second fiddle to were the Gandhis, which was standard practice for all Congress leaders. On retirement day, nobody mentioned Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ordinance and nobody remembered Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being asked to vacate his chair for Sonia Gandhi at an official meeting.
Now, Manmohan Singh’s failing health has made it difficult for him to discharge the duties of a Member of Parliament. The former Prime Minister had not attended a single day of the Parliament’s Budget Session and the last time he had turned up was for a day during the Winter Session. It is unlikely he will be an MP again.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Prime Minister HD Devegowda lauded Manmohan Singh’s career. There was a time when Modi had only lousy references for Manmohan Singh and it was Modi who gave the nickname ‘Maun-Mohan Singh’ to the so-called “accidental prime minister”.
Manmohan Singh’s Rajya Sabha term ends in April. Meanwhile, Modi has been ad nauseum on another term for himself, one more than Manmohan Singh’s two. Perhaps that explains the effusive praise for Manmohan Singh. Otherwise, it is hard to explain Modi’s fulsome praise for his predecessor for “guiding the House” and being a “shining example” of an MP?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi remembered Manmohan Singh coming to the Rajya Sabha in “a wheelchair to help strengthen democracy”. It was all surprising but the usually expressive Rajya Sabha Members of Parliament kept their deadpan faces and some Congress MPs even thanked the Prime Minister for the good words.
Those with middling memories will remember that Narendra Modi and Manmohan Singh were not even the best of acquaintances forget being even middling friends. Their arenas were also different. One made his mark in the assembly when the other was earning kudos in Parliament. But the chronicler of politics didn’t miss the “highly critical remarks” both had for each other.
In October 2012, for example, then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi calls Manmohan Singh “Maun” Mohan Singh, stating that the biggest news of the day was “Maun-Mohan Singh breaking his silence.” A year later, Modi called Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a “night watchman PM” and “a puppet of the Gandhi family.” The same year, Modi questioned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ability to “lead a nation.”
Then, in 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed surprise at the “clean record of Dr Singh” when the UPA government was inundated in corruption allegations. “Not a single corruption charge against Manmohan Singh, that too during the most corrupt government. The art of taking a bath while wearing a raincoat in the bathroom can be learnt from Manmohan Singh.”
Modi’s insults continued unabated. Modi called Singh “an acting PM imposed on the country”, at a rally in Madhya Pradesh. “Whether it is running a remote-control government or playing video games, these people cannot think above acting. This is why they imposed an acting Prime Minister at the helm of the country and waited till the Prime Minister-in-making became wise.”
Today, Modi is the “Prime Minister at the helm of the country” and “the Prime Minister-in-making” is none other than the one who is on a Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, and “waiting to become wise”. Commenting on Narendra Modi, Singh had said when Modi took charge of India: “Without discussing the merits of Narendra Modi, I sincerely believe that it will be disastrous for the country to have Shri Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister.” Clearly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fulsome praise for the 91-year-old former Prime Minister sounds hollow and insincere especially when even the quiet Manmohan Singh found his critical voice when confronted with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (IPA Service)