PM’s fortunes swung from yin to yang, and India’s too (2010 in Retrospect)By Minu Jain, IANS
Thursday, December 23, 2010
NEW DELHI - When prices of the humble onion overshadow the impact of big-time diplomatic visits, it is time to worry. And that is how it was for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as 2010 winds to a close with corruption scandals, the weakening political clout of his party and rising prices clouding his profile in the global arena and the India growth story.
A year well begun has pretty much been undone as far as India’s prime minister is concerned. The schism between diplomatic pluses and domestic minuses saw the common Indian more concerned about the petrol price hike and the price of one kg of onion than the indisputable triumph of all P-5 heads of nations - countries that call the shots in global affairs - calling on India in the latter half of the year.
Politically too, the year ended on a bad note for the Manmohan Singh government, whose fortunes dipped to a never before slump with a deepening corruption taint over the 2008 second-generation (2G) telecom spectrum licence allotment, the Commonwealth Games preparations and irregular allocation of apartments in a Mumbai elite housing society.
The opposition got the leverage it had been looking for and, united in purpose, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) together with the Left parties and others ensured that parliament was stalled every day of the winter session over demands for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into what has come to be known as the spectrum scam.
Despite staunch backing from Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who extolled him as a man of “sobriety and integrity” and the man himself offering to break precedence by appearing before parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the opposition refused to back down.
Was action not taken against communications minister A. Raja - who finally quit in November - because of his status as a member of ally DMK? Was the Congress turning a blind eye to corruption?
Despite strenuous efforts, the doubts persisted, giving opposition parties some much-needed oxygen.
If the prime minister did not agree to a JPC, 2010 would be remembered as the year of “stinking scams”, said BJP leader L.K. Advani.
That the ruling Congress could get only four assembly seats out of 243 in a politically crucial state like Bihar added to the party’s many troubles - and therefore Manmohan Singh’s.
The domestic montage was complex.
The northeast was quiet but Jammu and Kashmir flared up in the summer of 2010 with more than 100 people being killed in the valley in clashes with police, and many saying the situation was the worst in two decades.
Terror kept a relatively low profile with the February bombing in Pune, in which 17 people were killed, and the December blast in Varanasi, taking the lives of two people, being the biggest incidents.
However, Maoist insurgency continued to be a major threat with one government estimate stating that 974 people, including 577 civilians, were killed till November this year.
The international scenario was far more encouraging for the technocrat prime minister, feted for his erudition.
India is like a bride being wooed by many suitors, is how Russian Ambassador Alexander Kadakin put it ahead of his president Dmitry Medvedev’s trip. The visits by the five permanent members of the Security Council began with British Prime Minister David Cameron in July. Then followed US President Barack Obama, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Medvedev in quick succession.
Relations with Pakistan stayed turbulent, but Manmohan Singh weathered the storm and the 2008 controversy over the inclusion of Balochistan in a joint statement by maintaining staunchly that relations could not move ahead without any meaningful steps to stop terror activities directed at India.
On the economic front, the prime minister led the country in signing a series of trade and economy pacts with several countries, including Japan and Canada.
He also acknowledged that inflation was a “serious concern” but promised it would go down to around five percent by the end of this fiscal. And the homemaker, struggling to balance budgets with the unprecedented rise in prices of essentials, waited anxiously for his words to come true.
The Indian economy would grow at between 9 and 10 percent, he held, a trajectory that led to the country being hailed as one of the world’s most important emerging economies.
The party needs to resurrect itself as does the government and therefore the prime minister, the fortunes of all three inextricably linked.
Like the Chinese yin and yang, where the negative balances the positive, and the dark sets off the light, Manmohan Singh’s 2010 has been a mix. Unfortunately for him, however, the shadows are deepening in the twilight hours of the year and he needs some quick thinking on his feet to recover lost ground.
(Minu Jain can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)