‘Not an actor in his own cabinet’

Trilochan S Kalra
Trilochan S Kalra

How would you rate him as PM?
Two astounding paradoxes define him. First, the only issue he expended any political capital on was the Indo-US nuclear deal. What we expected to be his strong point, the economy, turned out to be his weakest. We frittered away the good times, and not a single major decision (partial exception of VAT and NREGA) was taken on the economy. On roads and power, he has been the slowest to push money out of the door. Second, he is personally considered honest, but stood by when every State institution was being assaulted by the Congress: the Election Commission, Governors, even the judiciary. No institutional integrity.

What are his biggest successes?
Some would argue, the Indo-US nuclear deal. I’m not a big fan. On Pakistan, he had the right ideas, but they couldn’t be completed. I think the profound failures of this government were masked by ‘growth’ and good monsoon.

What were the failures?
Not using the good economic times to put in place decisions that would help the poor in the long run: zero on institutions — police, judiciary, things that really affect the poor. Except for RTI, nothing on administrative reform. Three crucial sectors: education, infrastructure, power saw more promissory notes than achievements. But more importantly, his failure is in leaving the country with a great sense of nervousness, a subtle but insidious divisiveness and a vacuum in both moral authority and actual power.

Unlike other PMs, one hardly saw Manmohan in trouble spots. Not in Kandhamal, Singur or Karnataka.
Forget ‘trouble’ spots. He was not even an actor in his own cabinet. His ministers dominated him. But yes, he did not perform the essential function of a PM, that is, express our aspirations, mediate opposing views, manage conflict.

Ironically, has he devalued decency and made crasser versions of strength look more desirable?
He is financially honest but I don’t think long stretches of evasive silence on so many important issues and conflicts is a sign of honesty. It is more evasiveness.