Vague and evasive

Vague and evasive

It is not a proud moment for a prime minister to make an assertion that he is not lame duck.  Nor is it a happy occasion for the country to listen to it. But Manmohan Singh had to fight an entrenched and still growing public perception that his person and office are not in active command and control of their responsibilities and that governance is drifting.

As the prime minister tried to make out in his talk with some editors on Wednesday, it is not the media and the opposition that has created that impression. Public perceptions are not to be faulted, especially over a period of time. Manmohan Singh had a lot of goodwill to back him once, and if some of it has drained out he is himself to blame, not the opposition or the media.

There are no major policy decisions or actions of the government in recent times which have the stamp of the prime minister on it. On most issues he and his government  have  been defensive.

On Wednesday also he was defensive much of the time and vague and noncommittal on many issues. It does not help in the debate over the Lokpal to know that while the prime minister personally favours the inclusion of his office in its purview, others don’t want it.

He is ready to give way to a young leadership if the party wants it, but would there be any doubt about it? The government is only responsible if the reform agenda has slowed down and if there is no major progress in areas which he specifically mentioned, like infrastructure, health and education. If opposition governments obstructed plans like the introduction of GST, there is no evidence of the prime minister having taken an initiative to reach out to state governments on them.

To be more visible and audible to the nation through regular interaction with the media is good. The first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, used to write monthly letters to chief ministers and hold regular press conferences. Manmohan Singh will gain from such interactions but he will have to back them up with action and a regular report card. 

Statements of intentions, claims of good work and shifting of blame will not impress the nation if the people do not see actual performance on the ground. There seems to be some realisation of this, but it needs to be earnestly followed up with action. 

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