Why Narendra Modi, not Manmohan Singh, is the real accidental Prime Minister

There is no doubt Singh is a Congress loyalist, but there is also no doubt that he is a true nationalist dedicated to the cause of serving the country.

 |  5-minute read |   28-12-2018
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It was May 18, 2004. A rare political drama was being played out in the Central Hall of Parliament. The very place that had seen many Prime Ministers being elected was now witness to a historic renunciation of power — a woman declining the Prime Minister’s chair in the world’s largest democracy.

sonia-gandhi-690_122818022741.jpgSonia Gandhi's 'no' to power gave birth to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. (Source: Reuters)

Over 200 Congress leaders were pleading before the ‘woman from Italy’. Turn by turn, leaders from the Congress party tried to convince Sonia Gandhi to not ‘orphan’ them and accept the PM’s chair.

She didn’t budge.

Action shifted from the Central Hall to 10, Janpath, Sonia Gandhi’s home for many years. There were demonstrations and wailings, even threats of suicides to ‘convince’ Sonia to be the PM.

But hers was an emphatic ‘no’ — one that is a complete sentence. A ‘no’ that almost stunned the nation into silence, including her ardent critics. Out of that ‘no’ was born Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

son-690_122818025152.jpgManmohan Singh has served the country wholeheartedly in all roles assigned to him. (Source: PTI)

Even though Sonia Gandhi’s ‘no’ came on May 18, 2014, it is well known that she had decided to ‘renounce’ the PM’s chair much before the election results were announced.

Manmohan Singh was no accident. He was a well-thought through choice for the Gandhi family.

It is important to scrutinise Singh’s report card in the light of the release of the trailer of Anupam Kher-starrer The Accidental Prime Minister.

The movie is based on the book, The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh, written by Sanjaya Baru, Singh's media adviser and chief spokesperson from May 2004 until August 2008.

accident-690_122818023120.jpgThe Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh, Sanjaya Baru, Penguin Books India, 2014.

Thirteen years before he took over as the PM of the country, Manmohan Singh had already changed India forever. A man of few words, Singh quoted Victor Hugo to announce not just to India, but the world at large, “No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come."

The idea Singh was introducing India to was — economic liberalisation.

On July 24, 1991, as finance minister under the PV Narsimha Rao government, Singh presented a budget that broke the inertia of the socialist economy. He ended the licence raj, encouraging entrepreneurship.

He devalued the rupee, which enjoyed an artificial superiority against major currencies. This move gave trade a sudden boost, opening scores of employment avenues in the country.

It wasn’t just corporate houses Singh was bothered about — by increasing corporate tax from 40 per cent to 45 per cent, Singh also ensured the government had enough money to take care of its social welfare responsibilities.

There is no doubt Singh is a Congress loyalist - but there is also no doubt that he is a true nationalist, dedicated to the cause of serving the country in whatever capacity he can.

Unlike Pranab Mukherjee or Sharad Pawar, who quit the Congress ostensibly on the question of Sonia’s foreign origin, Manmohan Singh has shown no personal ambition beyond silently performing the task entrusted to him. It was only ‘natural’ — not ‘accidental’ — for the Gandhi family to then choose Singh as the face of the government.  

sonia-690_122818022802.jpgNCP chief Sharad Pawar quit the Congress over Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin. (Source: India Today)

Singh’s commitment to the nation has been so great that he even put his government on the line in 2008 over the Indo-US nuclear deal in a bid to end India’s nuclear apartheid, which was imposed in 1978 by former US President Jimmy Carter.

What has gone against Singh, however, is the silence he maintained even as the UPA government found itself mired in corruption charges. His personal probity was put to question. However, not even a remote connection has so far been alleged — forget being proven — that can link Singh to any of the scams.

Singh earned his position as the Prime Minister of India, much like he earned his role as the country’s Finance Minister and Reserve Bank of India’s governor.

Professionals who have done wonders in their fields have as much right to occupy the PM’s chair as seasoned politicians. Their elevation, based on their solid personal record, can’t be read as a stroke of luck or a mere 'accident'.

But India has had some Prime Ministers who came to occupy the chair 'accidentally'. These include some who came to lead the country simply owing to a confluence of political circumstances.

Chandra Shekhar (November 10, 1990 to June 21, 1991), HD Deve Gowda (June 1, 1996 to April 21 1997), and IK Gujral (April 21, 1997 to March 19, 1998) are some of the people who became India’s PM by a stroke of luck.

None of them completed a full term in office.

However, India also has a PM who is well on his way to completing his term - and he too got the position accidentally.

The comparison between Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi also becomes important, given that the BJP is promoting this movie from its official Twitter handle.

In September 2013, when the BJP declared Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had ‘retired’ from active politics and LK Advani was apparently not very acceptable to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as a PM candidate because he had not only referred to Muhammad Ali Jinnah as a secular man, but also called the Babri demolition the saddest day of his life.

There was a leadership vacuum in the BJP.

Modi was seen as a staunch proponent of Hindutva and was thus asked to step up as the face of the party.

modi-690_122818022934.jpgNarendra Modi was made BJP's prime ministerial candidate because of a leadership crisis. (Source: PTI)

The country was by then disappointed with the large-scale corruption cases tumbling out one after the other under the UPA. One can say there was huge anti-incumbency against the Congress-led UPA government. Many a jumla were thus orchestrated and the dream of a 'decisive leadership' was sold to Indians far and wide.

Modi thus became PM in the face of a leadership vacuum — indeed, almost 'accidentally'.

accidental-690_122818024835.jpgA tale of two Prime Ministers. (Source: India Today)

Buoyed by the repeated attacks on his personal integrity, and his silence that has often been read as meekness, Manmohan Singh once said, “History will be kinder to me.”

But in a political climate where the debate is about who can lead India, and not where they could lead the country to, this much is clear.

A film titled The Accidental Prime Minister sure isn’t going to be part of that kinder history. 

Also read: History will judge Manmohan Singh as an ideal leader — and an architect of the Modi phenomenon


Vandana Vandana @vandana5

Author is assistant editor DailyO.

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