December 16, 2009

Food Prices and Inflation - Govt. Twiddling Thumbs

There is no surprise that the inflation has been galloping week after week primarily on the back of the back-breaking and uncontrolled increases in the prices of food products almost on a daily basis. The extent of increase in the food prices and overall inflation has once again ceased to have any meaning although for the record, the food inflation has jumped to 17.47% and the overall inflation for November 2009 jumped to 4.78%.

With a Government that is only content with slogans of working for aam admi and expressing “concern” for the inflation, the people can hardly expect their cries of suffering to be heard.

Sharad Pawar

The man responsible for the total mess in Agriculture, Sharad Pawar, is unable to show what he has done to control the prices of food products. In fact, his policies have been largely responsible not only for the immediate problems but also for the manner in which the country is likely to become extremely vulnerable in the future as far as food security is concerned. Yet, in a show of utter indifference, he keeps inventing all kinds of reasons for the failure to curb the price rise.

The aam admi has to be content to see the Memo of Reasons coming from Pawar showing different reasons at different times based on expediency.

Much has already been written about Sharad Pawar in earlier articles (see here, here and here). Far more could be written, if only it would make a difference.

Pranab Mukerjee, explaining away the inflation, says in one breath in Rajya Sabha: “Prices are a major area of concern,” but they cannot be “merely solved by rhetoric. Corrective economic steps are to be taken,”. Who is engaged in 'rhetoric', pray? It is not the people, not the Opposition parties but the Government that should have acted long back but did not and has not. In the next breath he says: “inflation, especially of food items, has gone up because of the “cost push factor” following a high level of government support prices paid to farmers — be it sugarcane, wheat or rice. However, there would be no going back and "farmers will have to be encouraged." Such comments may well fit in the mouth of Pawar but not Pranab who is a more responsible person. Here is a Government implicitly trying to place the blame for the price rise on the doorstep of the farmers! It is playing a dangerous game by projecting that prices can be reduced only at the cost of the farmers, pitting them against the people-at-large! The people have not forgotten how the Government tried to help the farmers with the sugarcane ordinance that led to massive protests from the farmers, forcing the Government to backtrack hastily, less than a month ago. Such are the ways in which the Agriculture Minister makes policies which are meekly endorsed by the entire Government "in the interest of the farmers".

Pranab Mukerjee -confused or trying to confuse?

What do the two contradictory statements from Pranab Mukerjee mean for the aam admi? Do we have to believe that while on the one hand it is the Government which has to take corrective steps, yet at the same time, the prices are rising not because of the lack of corrective steps, but because the price increase takes place due to the farmer being paid more? Is it because of farmers being paid more that prices are increasing on a weekly nay, daily basis?

And then we have the Prime Minister, who seems to be unwilling to call a spade a spade and hold his Agriculture Minister responsible and make him to account.

Helpless, just like the Aam admi?

Unfortunately, the Opposition parties had so far failed to effectively pressurize the Government and whatever little they did so far to highlight the plight of the people does not seem to have made any difference.

The grim situation seems to have woken them up and finally they took the step of protesting in and outside the Parliament on 16th December 2009. Their protests inside the Parliament led to the Lok Sabha being adjourned for the day. It can only be hoped that the Opposition will continue to put the Government under enough pressure to shake up the sense of helplessness that the Government has become used to showing, whenever anything goes wrong, whether it is the safety and security of the country and the people, or the food security.

The Left Parties and SP

In the meanwhile, as Pawar continues fiddling with agriculture policies and cricket while the people's bellies are on fire, the Government appears to be twiddling thumbs hoping...hoping that eventually, the people will be forced to drastically reduce their food intake bringing down prices, and improving their health too!

सारे जहाँ से अच्छा, हिंदोस्ताँ हमारा

August 27, 2009

The Mess in Agriculture

The one who fiddles...
mere desh ki dharti sona ugle

After the recent events coupled with experience of the last few years on the food front, the question in people’s minds is : For how long should the country suffer the continuance of a person who does not have any credibility left nor seems to be capable of meeting the challenges on the agriculture front, as the Agriculture Minister?

Over a year ago, India-awake highlighted in two articles, the inept handling of the Agriculture portfolio by Sharad Pawar, wannabe Prime Minister, and the resulting grim scenario as far as the food security of the nation is concerned. See articles here and here which bear reading. It was clearly visualized even then that due to lack of adequate attention and absence of purposeful policies for long term and sustainable improvements essential to keep feeding a growing population, the country was on its way to food scarcity and recurring cycles of imports as in the distant past. Even as the Minister kept on boasting about record production, Rs. 71000 crores had to be spent to bring succor to suffering farmers and a Government corporation imported under some scandalous transactions rotten wheat bringing back memories of PL-480 days of the distant past. Both had to be paid for with the taxes collected from the aam admi.

Last year when the country was reeling under high inflation, the all-knowing Finance Minister Chidambaram cited the “food crisis” as one of the reasons for the difficulties and the Congress Party was forced to issue a press statement calling for “better agricultural policies”. And yet towards the end of the previous Government’s tenure in April 2009, the clever Pawar managed to get Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to praise him with the latter saying that the agricultural growth rate during Pawar’s term had gone up to 3.5% from 1.8% during the NDA regime.

Sadly Pawar has managed to secure the same portfolio in the second term, ensuring continuing suffering for the people. Once again, the food scarcity, high prices and the lame excuses for the disastrous situation are being faced by the people in an uncanny repetition of what happened just last year. Going through the media reports of that time and now, only the dates and the statistics have changed. Qualitatively, the situation is far worse now. Till last year, only the producers i.e. the farmers were forced to commit suicide. This year, perhaps, even the consumers, the aam admi, may have to take the path if they cannot get their daily bread.

All that the Minister seems to have been doing all along is to claim credit for the high support prices the Government paid to the farmers and loan write-offs to the farmers which was essentially a burden on the people arising from government neglect. He thinks of everything only in terms of money and high support prices, subsidies and doles are his panacea. And, whenever there are problems related to availability or high prices of food articles, this master of sophistry is never short of clichéd excuses and song and dance blaming increase in consumption, failure of rains, unfavorable weather conditions, logistics problems, wastage of food grains, market intermediaries, hoarding, failure of the States, shortage of storage etc. many of which are the result of Government inaction. He even lamented that there was a huge wastage due to damages in government warehouses, implying that it was somehow not his responsibility. One gem on the cause of price rise: “prices had risen as the purchasing power of poor people had increased due to welfare schemes such as NREGA and, therefore, the demand had gone up tremendously.” He has also been inventing “new factors” like increase in income, climate change, high energy prices, globalization and urbanization! His latest googly in the Lok Sabha on 7th Aug. 2009 was: “There have been changes in the world, which are having an impact on India too.” With so many excuses available, it is so easy for him to use them in various combinations to explain even if people die of hunger.

When these factors work together to conspire against his efforts, what is the poor man to do other than focus on cricket or other such money-spinning ventures?

The Minister for Agriculture of the country is not there just to give out weather reports, reel out statistics to boast about record production and procurement, higher support prices and subsidies and feed misleading statements in place of food to the people while in the same breath, try to explain away shortages and rising prices.

In the last one month, the people are being fed with different projections of rains and production, none of which are reflected in the ground reality which is that the people are suffering even before the effect of the failing monsoon on the crops. On July 11, 2009 Pawar said: “there was nothing to worry about the availability of food grains in the country even though the monsoon situation was not normal.” Even later, on August 4, he informed Lok Sabha that the Centre had raised the food grains target to 238.12 million tonnes for the current year against 233.88 million tonnes in previous year. Everything positive that has been said about record production and procurement by Pawar is simply not matched by the prices which have been literally shooting up in a short time. He has also declared that the country has enough stocks of wheat and rice to last for 13 (or 30?) months. But after conveying a false sense of security on the food front for a long time, now he says that there is a problem and the people should expect high prices, directly stoking the high price fire. It is no use blaming hoarders or the monsoon.

The cases of two essential items of daily needs, namely, Tur Dal and Sugar, provide a clear insight into how the matters are being mishandled.

Tur Dal

In the case of Tur dal, the Government awoke from its slumber (self induced?) when practically overnight, the price mysteriously shot up to an unthinkable Rs. 100 per kg rising by 40% in one month, bringing untold miseries to the people. There is a fear that it may reach even Rs. 140 per kg. Indications about shortfall in production were available as early as January 2009 and in important growing areas like Karnataka, the production was expected to fall by as much as 40%. With rising demand for pulses where the country has been required to resort to regular imports even to meet normal demand, no serious efforts have been made to increase the production while the focus has been to increase the production of cereals and other grains. While talking about the situation Pawar, adept in sidetracking real issues gave in the Parliament the usual spiel known to everyone about domestic production being short, consumption growing, the country having to import, only a few countries having surplus in pulses, making efforts to produce more in the country etc. none of which could actually explain the specific question about the huge price increase in less than two months. And when the media reported about lakhs of tons of pulses lying at the ports even as the prices shot up, the Minister made a deliberate carefully drafted statement in the Parliament, that whatever quantity was procured by the government agencies was “not rotting” and also got the Pulse Importers Association to issue a denial which actually confirmed that “an estimated 3.7 lakh tonnes of pulses were currently lying at various ports and at port-towns and are in the process of being distributed to end-users in the hinterland”. Huge stocks lying at the ports were supposedly “in the process of being distributed” which ‘process’ can take an indefinite period of time. The seriousness of the situation was confirmed when the Government recently gave a belated ultimatum to the importers to lift the stocks in a certain time. According to one report, the price of Tur dal was Rs. 34 at the time of elections and has only since been rising continuously to touch the level of Rs. 102 in less than two months. There are many who think that the timing of the price rise tells its own story. It is also significant that the price increased even before the real situation of the monsoon was visualized.

The people, left to their own devices could respond in the only way possible: they have been forced to reduce their intake of this essential source of proteins. Some State governments are talking of distributing tur dal through PDS shops in a limited way but the people-at-large have no option but to pay the high price. The helpless Agriculture Minister, apart from talking of augmenting imports after the prices have reached these levels, is twiddling his thumbs allowing vested interests to rake in huge profits.


The bitter case of sugar is more mystifying, and needs to be looked at, keeping in mind the fact that Pawar has long standing involvement with the sugar industry and as such there is prima facie a conflict of interest.

The economics and politics of sugar are determined by a complex web of government policies including import, export, MSP mechanism, levy and release mechanism, futures trading etc. which determine the prices that the consumer pays. Any wrong or untimely decision, deliberate or unintended, can result in the people having to pay dearly.

During 2007-2008 the sugarcane crop was 348 million tons creating a sugar surplus situation. In December 2007, Pawar himself asked the industry to reduce its heavy reliance on sugarcane cultivation owing to severe constraints on land, asking the industry to turn to alternative crops such as wheat, rice, cereals and oilseeds especially when the country would have to import them (all of these) in future. On 7th August, he told Lok Sabha: “Last year, when this Government had announced Rs. 1080 per quintal price for wheat, a sizeable section of the farming community, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, shifted from sugarcane to wheat.” (Lok sabha debates 7.8.2009). He is complaining now about what happened as a result of his own actions and advice! How did he handle the MSP mechanism? The table below is revealing.

MSP 05-06
MSP 08-09

Note that the MSP for wheat has gone up by 66% whereas sugarcane is practically negligible. Was it not logical and anticipated that with such MSP changes acreage might move from one product to another and create shortage of one product and surplus of another? Surely, this could not have been an oversight. What may be the logic? Increase the MSP of other products first. This will inevitably result in acreage diversion from sugarcane and create shortages and panic. It may then be easier to bring about changes in sugarcane MSP as also overall sugar policy without appearing to show any favors and without questions being raised.

During 2007-2008, there was a surplus in sugar for a second year in succession. Unmindful of the cyclic nature of sugar cane production which could see a fall in production in the next year, he allowed sugar exports even by giving subsidies on exports after denying earlier that there would be subsidies. He was also pushing for allowing production of ethanol also from sugar cane juice apart from molasses and in favor of increasing the mandatory limit of ethanol blending in fuel from 5% to 10% ensuring either a rise in the sugar price or reduced availability.

Export and import policies are also being tinkered with, which somehow by accident seem to benefit the producers and traders. In Sept. 2008 he rejected an industry demand to allow duty free sugar imports saying there will not be requirement for imports.

When seen together with the prodding by Pawar to shift the land use and other actions like pursuing the higher-ethanol-from-sugar argument and rejecting import demand in Sept. 2008, allowing exports, do all these not look like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle created by a master?

On 31st July 2009, he made a statement in the Parliament, about the expected shortfall in sugar production shockingly stating at the same time that the lower production “has put pressure on sugar prices”. He could not be blamed for taking the Parliament in confidence on the situation. At the same time, it was an unmistakable cue for prices to shoot up locally as well as even internationally as he very well knows that India being a huge consumer, any such official pronouncement would have a big impact. The following chart shows what happened to international price of raw sugar in two weeks following 31st July (Friday).

The price of white sugar also went up from $ 492 (31.7.09) to $ 577 (13.8.09). They have since reached a 28 year high. It is not difficult to guess that those in the know would have covered up good quantities of sugar from international markets just before the announcement, to make huge profits in a short time. And when the prices rose, the Minister started blaming speculators for spreading rumors. The following chart shows the actual sugar balance situation.

Another intriguing aspect of the situation is the response of the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA). The website of ISMA was carrying a press statement in effect saying that the sugar supply was comfortable. In June 2009 too, they had made a statement to this effect.

Yet, suddenly, within just a few days after Pawar’s statement, the press statement was withdrawn completely from the website. Does this not tell a story?

He has been also less than transparent in letting the people know of the real situation. As late as 19th August, 2009, he merely saidSome shortfall in production of oilseeds and sugarcane is also expected” .

Earlier, on 31st July 2009 while listing various steps he told the Lok Sabha: “With these decisions, domestic availability of sugar will get augmented and sugar prices in the country will remain reasonable” A lay person is left wondering as to whether Government was not aware of the shortage which is claimed now, much before July 2009 as it was based on the crop from the earlier monsoon. Even a senior Congress functionary has blamed him for misrepresenting the sugar situation.

Now, to show that efforts are being made to augment the supply of sugar, he has entered into discussions with the sugar producers. He has proposed increase in the levy sugar target from 10% to 25% to augment availability with the Government. Several rounds of discussions have taken place and what is emerging is that the sugar industry not only wants a higher price for the levy sugar but at the same time also wants the government determined release mechanism for the non-levy quantity to be removed. The idea is clearly one: to get a higher price for levy portion and substantially free the controls on sugar whereby the industry can take maximum advantage in the open market. This actually seems to be the plan and the timing of the discussion is such that due to the approaching festive season, the Government will feel pressured to take a favorable decision just to avoid public ire.

Many people believe that the repeated meetings taking place with the sugar industry appear to be a scripted charade just for effect, with the objective of achieving substantial decontrol, a decision on which was deferred by the Cabinet earlier. Pawar has already revealed his mind as just last year he had called for abolition of levy system despite the cabinet deferring a decision to decontrol the sugar sector at that time. He had also said at that time: “We have got good stocks of about 11 million tonne as carry-over and we expect a good production. So this is the proper time when there is ample stock of sugar, one should take that decision,” Should such a major policy decision be taken considering just one-two years' supply balances? All the surplus somehow appears to have disappeared. It is just as well that the Government did not take a decision based on such short term considerations.

As rightly speculated by some in the Congress party, such a policy decision would leave the people at the mercy of sugar producers in times of such shortages. It is for the people to be aware of and guard against such perfidious plans.
The Prime Minister has already put the nation on notice that hard times can be expected while assuring that no one will go hungry. In whichever form the Government comes forward to help, it is the people who will pay for it and it is no credit to the Government.

crisis calling
One thing is clear. This would-be* Prime Minister Pawar either does not know exactly what is going on or, more likely, knows exactly what he is doing. In either case, he hardly has the credibility left to handle such a crucial Ministry. It is now for the Prime Minister to oversee and monitor the decisions and actions of this Ministry closely to stop the Government being discredited further.

For the profiteers - happy days ... sona, hire-moti
While Sharad Pawar has done poorly in the Agriculture Ministry, his man Friday and coadjutant in the Civil Aviation, Praful Patel has done worse. But that is another tale.

* Would-be: Unfulfilled or frustrated in realizing an ambition

Update: 19th Sept. 2009
The latest news article about rotting imported essentials in the ports puts paid to Sharad Pawar's bluff. ( see here)
सारे जहाँ से अच्छा, हिंदोस्ताँ हमारा

July 18, 2009

Help yourself, it is public money

The U.P. Chief Minister Mayawati has been on a spending spree using public funds amounting to several thousand crores of rupees, to create parks, memorials and statues in the State. The Congress party as also her other political rivals have rightly condemned such a huge misuse and wastage of public funds.

Digvijay Singh of Congress Party said: “Public money is being wasted. They will not forgive her”. Chidambaram termed the statues ˜shameful”. He said that in a state like UP which is reeling under power shortage and lack of health facilities, this amount could have been used for development. “She is spending Rs 1000 crore on establishing statues of elephants and herself. Can there be something more shameful than this in Indian politics.” Well yes, there are more shameful things indulged in by his own party in such matters over the years. It is a case of pot calling the kettle black.

Public assets, plans, projects, schemes, institutions...

Whose money is it anyway?

Over the years, the Congress Party has usurped the credit for hundreds of Central and State projects and programs funded with public money, by naming them after its own leaders from a particular family to secure their place in history and in the people’s minds. According to Mayawati’s party, at least 125 national institutes named after just Rajiv Gandhi are run with public funds, not Party funds. The latest instance is the move to name the Sea Link in Mumbai, costing Rs. 1650 crores, just four times more than the original estimate, after Rajiv Gandhi. Ironically, while criticizing Mayawati’s project to create statues of just over 50 elephants, the Congress Party wants to have the privilege of naming the Sea Link, said to weigh the equivalent of 50,000 elephants, after a member of the family which the Party holds in awe. Although Mayawati’s abuse of position and misuse of public funds particularly for personal idolatory is wrong, she is right in pointing fingers at the Congress party for doing exactly the same thing all this time. The Congress party is habituated to unabashedly venerating its party leaders at the cost of public money.

More shameful ...

Not content with naming public assets after its leaders, the Congress party has progressed into systematically promoting its leaders through huge advertisement campaigns in media. This is done not with Party funds and in the name of the Party but misusing public funds and also misusing the name of the Government of India. Chidambaram, the custodian of the public exchequer till not long ago, must be fully aware how his party, through the Ministers, has been helping itself with funds under his custody, to promote its leaders. Taking a cue from his Party, other parties have been doing the same in a free for all.

In the last year, particularly during some months before the elections, an estimated around Rs. 400 crore which could have been used to prevent farmer suicides or for development was diverted for wasteful advertising by Government Ministries, other public authorities as well as PSUs. Rainbow colored full page advertisements were splashed in print media all over the country day after day ad nauseam, to further political interests in the garb of informing the people of the plans or achievements of the Government. Many newspapers carried four or more of such full page advertisements on a single day. Ministries concerned with the so called aam admi oriented programs spent more recklessly by having two full color pages in a newspaper on one day.

These advertisements carried pictures of the Prime Minister, Ministers and a motley assortment of politicians in various permutations, some showing as many as 20 faces. Above all, the advertisements prominently displayed the picture of the Congress Party’s Sonia Gandhi. Taking advantage of the Congress Party’s urge to misuse public funds in this manner other parties did the same. Laloo Yadav used advertisements by the Railways to show pictures of Rabri Devi and others from his party. Sharad Pawar got ICAR under his Ministry to release advertisements from its meager budget to project pictures of himself, his daughter and other senior members of his party. His man Praful Patel, made the Airports Authority and the ailing Air India along with a few private players contribute for a massive 20 crore plus campaign on civil aviation, featuring his picture (see here). A. Raja asked BSNL, a PSU under his Ministry, to show in its advertisement the picture of the DMK mentor Karunanidhi who holds no office in Central Government. Other ministers also participated in this “Help Yourself” project to show images of themselves and their favored ones through their Ministry advertisements.

But the prime objective of the entire campaign by the Government of India (even some Congress ruled State Governments) was to glorify the Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who does not hold any office in the Government or any of its organs whose advertisements carried her picture. A clever subterfuge was used to mislead the people by describing her as “Chairperson of UPA” as if it is a position in the Government although it is not. The advertisements were supposedly meant to inform about various government schemes, projects, policies and plans. If that were really so, it could well be done economically and effectively by the Press Information Bureau without using full color full page advertisements. Even if recourse was taken to advertisements, there was no need or justification to show pictures of even any Ministers in advertisements meant only “to inform” the people. These pictures were intentionally placed and purposive where the official "information" was incidental. The Government went even farther by showing pictures of persons having no connection with the Government at all.

It is evident that the campaigns were not released in the ordinary course of Government’s activities. They were just an artifice to idolize the Congress Party President at public expense. By linking her picture in advertisements of the Ministries and other authorities, it was sought to be conveyed that effectively she is the one to be credited for the work done by the Government even while being outside of it!

It is worth understanding how the Government is being used to systematically create her image with campaigns obviously conceptualized by the Party’s spin doctors. Consider just one campaign entitled “Nuke-Pact”, a set of five advertisements released nationally in December 2008- January 2009. There is a very clever use of the advertising technique known as association principle. All these advertisements have a common tagline “A step even time salutes”. It is an obvious attempt to create by means of association a favorable image of the present President of the Congress Party by virtually putting her on the same pedestal as Mahatma Gandhi and for that matter Nehru and Indira Gandhi, although no one would say that she can hold a candle to any of these illustrious leaders. Notice, that the campaign shows four personalities including three Prime Ministers from a single family. It is meant to suggest that no other Prime Minister made any worthwhile contribution and to strengthen the "brand-image" of one family that the "time salutes" and "shall salute". Why is Manmohan Singh appearing? He is there, being the present Prime Minister and Nuclear Deal is acknowledged by his Party and even its President to be solely his baby and he has been given the entire credit. Why then is the picture of Sonia Gandhi there? It is there to snatch some credit for the deal (as for everything else) for her and the entire campaign is to build her image. Why is Mahatma Gandhi there? He is there only to avoid the campaign from appearing as a "family affair" and to more effectively use “association” by linking the common surnames of the present Gandhis with the great Mahatma Gandhi. Clearly, it is a most scandalous example of official Government sponsored image building of an individual and a family.

Serious Issues

The abuse of official machinery and public funds to apotheosize their own leader by the Congress Party is utterly reprehensible although it may be justifiable in its own book of morality and ethics. What Mayawati is doing by putting up her own statues is being done also by the Congress party by placing pictures of Sonia Gandhi in advertisements for the same purpose. The big difference is that whereas Mayawati holds an official position and spends public money through budget provisions, Sonia Gandhi being not in Government, has to inspire her minions in Government to use public funds by abusing their authority. Qualitatively too, expenditure on media advertisements is utterly wasteful as it does not create any value. The amount of money spent by either is just a matter of degree and the net effect is the same viz. diverting resources away from essential purposes as the need of resources for development is equally acute for the States as well as the Centre.

What is the difference?

But in the case of advertisements for Sonia Gandhi’s image building, there are more disturbing issues. The first serious question is whether a Government can undertake such promotional activities to blatantly glorify anyone and that too someone who is nobody in Government? Advertisement space paid for by the Government belongs to Government and if it is used even indirectly for private purposes under the cloak of some official purpose the expenditure is illegal. The second issue relates to the bureaucrats who really provide continuity to Government and who are expected to protect the System against improprieties by transient political superiors. They cannot escape their accountability and culpability if such illegal expenditure is incurred under their charge.

However, there is another issue of a fundamental nature at a higher level. When official advertisements consistently show the picture of a person who is not part of the Government, the role of the person in Government functioning is implicit and gets a certain legitimacy in people’s minds over a period. In the present case, the Prime Minister who heads the Government, by merely allowing such advertisements, accepts the de facto role of Sonia Gandhi in his Government, clearly lowering the authority of the High Office and the Cabinet. See also an article here in another but related context. It is not a personal issue, it concerns a Government Office. The most serious aspect is the fact that the advertisements are released in the name of the Government of India. It means that the Government itself accepts the existence of an extra-constitutional authority and is effectively sanctifying such a position. In a democracy having clearly defined structure of the Government and other constitutional authorities, such legitimization of something which the Constitution does not envisage, can have a deleterious effect on the polity not only at the Centre but also in the States.

This aspect needs to be carefully pondered over by constitutional experts, opinion makers and even the general public. It is futile to expect the present day politicians in power to be concerned about such "technicalities" that could restrict them from misusing their authority at will.

सारे जहाँ से अच्छा, हिंदोस्ताँ हमारा

April 21, 2009

Time for Testimonials

Every General Election in the country brings in its wake personal attacks, mud-slinging, name-calling, accusations and allegations of all kinds amongst and against political parties and individual candidates standing for the elections. In the surcharged atmosphere where the fate of 500 plus representatives of the people as well as members of several State Assemblies hangs in balance and the stakes are high, such events are almost unavoidable as the campaigning reaches a crescendo. The people have also come to cynically accept even a fair share of violent incidents and acts of intimidation as if they are as inevitable as the Elections.

The present General Elections 2009 for the 15th Lok Sabha have, however, brought new lows in no holds barred campaigning where the fault lines and weaknesses of the opposing parties and candidates have been ruthlessly highlighted before the electorate.

One such issue that has become a high point of campaigning during the on-going Elections is the highlighting of Sardar Manmohan Singh as a weak Prime Minister. The main Opposition Party BJP has made it a particular point to constantly hammer at this aspect throughout its campaign as a weighty argument against Congress Party and a Government led by that Party.

Sincere and honest that he undoubtedly is and capable that he is reputed to be, the fact that Manmohan Singh is weak in the position of Prime Minister does not need to be proved. His actions or inactions in key matters of the State Policy such as internal security and terrorism, his benign approach towards some incompetent, corrupt or otherwise wayward colleagues (which may be partly but not in all cases due to the compulsions of coalition politics) and his apparently servile attitude towards his Party Chief and her son in full conformity with the Party norm of sycophancy, leave hardly any doubt on this score. As far as internal security is concerned, it is amply clear that the ambivalent, almost non-existent, policy of the Government led by him with regard to dealing with terrorism did nothing to curb it but in fact emboldened the terrorists to strike at will during the last few years. No one needs to give a certificate about the abject failure of the Government led by him to deal with terrorism which is so very evident. The weak-kneed approach could have been due to his own unwilligness to take a firm view in the matter. Or, he could have been prevented by others against his own better judgment from doing what should have been done. In either case, in the net result it clearly shows his own weakness.
Apart from issues of governance, to cap it all, he has not thought it necessary to face the people by standing for the Lok Sabha although Mr. Rahul G. apparently with his poor understanding of the electoral situation claimed that Manmohan Singh could be elected from any seat if he stood!! (see this article too)

As far as his attitude towards the Party Chief and her family is concerned, Manmohan Singh does not let go of any opportunity to affirm that he is beholden to them personally for the opportunity to be the Prime Minister.
Read this:
When asked who between him and Rahul Gandhi would be the next PM, Singh said, "You have heard the Congress President and you have heard Rahul Gandhi. I think the answer is quite clear." (Times of India, 20th Apr. 2009)

Unfortunately for the Congress Party, regardless of whether Opposition parties highlight this point or not, the public perception about Manmohan Singh being weak as Prime Minister is too strong. So pervasive is this perception that even political allies by their actions show that they too concur with the people.

Even for his own Party; this particular issue has been giving cause for serious concern to the extent that even the Congress Party President has been going to great lengths to repeatedly make it a point to spring to his defense. Since the last couple of weeks, strenuous efforts are being made by the Party and in particular its President and "her family" to emphasize that he is not a weak Prime Minister.

The views of the Household members at 10, Janpath

To thwart such attacks on Manmohan Singh, the Party also went to the extent of twisting the matter by saying that an insult to the Prime Minister was an insult to the country, forgetting completely that not the Prime Minister but the person who would still like to occupy that chair was being referred to. His mentor also blamed L.K.Advani of BJP of being a slave to RSS(why accuse only Singh of being a slave?). It was nothing short of a tacit admission of the reality of Manmohan Singh's position.

On his part, Manmohan Singh himself has been trying to assert that he is not a weak Prime Minister.

He has also been suitably showing his admiration for his mentors as a member of this Mutual Admiration society.

Mutual Admiration Society

His latest unabashed quote: “Rahul has all the qualities to be a good prime minister”.

Their combined efforts have so far failed to impress the people in spite of reaching almost farcical proportions.

Whatever testimonials these actors on the electoral stage manage to exchange amongst themselves, it must be hoped that the people will see the realities and vote responsibly without getting carried away.

On the Campaign Trail of Rahul's fiefdom.......

सारे जहाँ से अच्छा, हिंदोस्ताँ हमारा