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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 40, September 27, 2014

A Weak Prime Minister

Sunday 28 September 2014, by Kuldip Nayar


“I did my duty” is the defence of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the charge that he was aware of corruption taking place in the mobile (2G spectrum) and sale of coal mines and did not do anything to stop the corrupt deals going through. That he himself is above board goes without saying but it does not absolve him conniving at open corruption going on under his nose.

 The report by the former Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai is so damaging that the former Prime Minister has to explain his side, if there is one, to sustain his credibility. It is not enough to argue that he did not personally make any money or that he is nowhere directly involved. He has to fight the impression that he looked like conniving at the scams which spread over months. And even when the entire corrupt deal was for everyone to see, he took no action. How can he say that what he did was doing his duty. At least he should have taken action when the CBI had reconstructed the scandal from a to z and had sent the report to his office.

His defence that “he did his duty” is a statement which is neither here nor there. Those who were responsible for the corrupt deals carried on for a long period without any check. Once the Prime Minister’s Office got the initial report it should have moved in. Its lack of action raises many questions which need answers. Mere silence will not be a reply nor would it minimise the gravity of the charges.

It is clear that he was in the know of the happening and preferred to keep silent because of political considerations. In fact if one could be blunt, he wanted to be in the chair at any cost.

And it has been more or less proved that he was the mere front and the money was being made by the elements which have come to be known by the name of No. 10, Janpath, the residence of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. That does not absolve him of looking the other side when the corrupt deals were being made and executed. Nobody blames him for being part of the scams. But nobody can say with authority that he looked at everything as if he was helpless.

He has often said that posterity will judge him better than what is being said against him today. It is difficult to anticipate what will be the people’s perception after three-four decades. Even then the observation against him of being a weak Prime Minister will stay.

It will be unfair to the nation if things are left at what they are today. There has to be a probe. It is a pity that there is no Lokpal yet because of political quarrels. But that does not mean that there should be no effort to reach at the bottom of the scams to pinpoint who, if not former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was supervising the rampant corruption which was going on.

The Office of the Prime Minister may not be any way responsible for the corruption which was prevalent but it cannot be said that it did not know of what was happening, much less acting to stop it.

That the corrupt deals took place is now a proven fact. Not to proceed further and pinpoint the blame will not be fair to the nation if the entire gamut of deals is not made public. It is not difficult to find who is to blame because somebody must have sanctioned the deals and somebody must have seen the execution.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) can be interested with the job even risking the political pressure which will be exerted on it to give a clean chit. It is a pity that no action is taken even against the highly placed bureaucrats because the politicians are themselves involved in the deals made. If the government decides not to do anything because the country had a weak Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, it does not mean that the scams did not take place or that both politicians and bureaucrats did not make money.

Now there is a change in the government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is saying again and again that he would clean the system; some action should have started by now. That the government servants should come on time is alright but this is not a change which will satisfy the people who are expecting action against the politicians and bureaucrats who were involved in the scams.

There is no direct evidence but the perception is that 10, Janpath was very much in the picture. The books which have come out to tell the story of what was happening behind the scenes have revealed enough for the appointment of a top independent team of eminent persons to go into the whole things and bring before the public how the politicians and bureaucrats had joined hands to literally loot the country.

On the other hand, without having any direct responsibility, Sonia Gandhi is said to have run the administration. Secret files used to go to her. Although this allegation has become public, there is no cogent explanation either from her or from the government headed by Manmohan Singh.

The interview which the Auditor General has given is much more damaging than his report. He has revealed that he had met the former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and conveyed certain things verbally. Still no action was taken.

It is difficult to say why Manmohan Singh did not act except that he wanted to stay on as the Prime Minister. Since Sonia Gandhi had everything to put him in the seat, he comes out very badly as if the chair was more important than the perception people had that he would do something to stop the corruption.

One feels sad that a person like Manmohan Singh, who had no axe to grind, compromised to stay in the chair. Posterity will judge him that he did not rise to the expectation that the office demanded to ensure that he does not lose the office he occupied.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is

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