Manmohan Bin Tughlaq

Is the 14th century Delhi sultan, Mohammad bin Tughlaq the secret role model for our current Delhi sultan, Manmohan Singh?

Manmohan Singh

Why is a 21st Century Indian Prime Minister like a 14th Century Delhi Sultan whose 662nd death anniversary it was last week? Because both Manmohan Singh and Mohammad bin Tughlaq will go down in history as leaders who were more pitied than feared or revered. More weak-willed than weak-kneed, the two have met their downfall in an inept administration rather than in the lack of personal rectitude. Their failure lies in their ability to annoy swathes of the general populace through inaction. Tughlaq was luckier though. There was no Time magazine in the 1300s that could splash his “underachieving” face on its cover for the world to see.

This isn’t a post about why the Prime Minister is an economic disappointment – that has been done to death. And honestly, the man on the street doesn’t really care about the huge current account deficit or a tax probe into Nokia’s investments in India (you can choose to think of the latter as divine retribution for introducing a range of phones called Asha) as much as he wants to cut off his right ear just so that this month’s petrol price hike doesn’t hurt as much. This is about what makes every concerned desi simmer and swear and update their status messages with questions like “why do dogs in Bangalore chase cars?” (keep reading, you’ll know soon enough).

One of Mr Singh’s biggest weaknesses is that he suffers a disconnect from what the people expect of a government. No, you cannot regulate Twitter and Facebook. Yes, people are going to be angry and walk the streets if corruption costs the country billions while the honest tax payer pays 30% in return for bad roads, power cuts and streets unsafe for women. No, you should not get to decide which shows and dialogues on TV offend “Indian sensibilities” and our “Bharatiya Sanskriti” especially when MPs behave like a bunch of playground bullies in Parliament. The government that the PM heads needs to get out of its post-colonial time warp and realise that gone are the days when it could claim that the people need the government. A national party looking to break India’s debilitating coalition culture would do well to realise that it is the government which needs the people.

This precise failure to adapt to the peoples’ mood was Tughlaq’s undoing. He changed his capital from Delhi to Devagiri against popular will and then switched it back again at great human cost. He overtaxed the Doab region just because it was fertile, underestimating the potential for a revolt. His decision to issue gold-backed copper coins in the absence of an official mint led to a spurt of forgeries which depleted currency reserves. In short, despite being a great scholar and an intellectual, his inability to merge theory-based policy with ground reality defeated him. A story not unlike the current PM’s plight.

Yet, it wasn’t always like this. While one could fault him on the alleged charges that he may have chosen to look away while his colleagues indulged in questionable practices, there aren’t many who doubt his personal ethics and integrity. He can still turn things around if only he shows the will. If only he talks to the people, gauges their mood and does what is right for the country instead of for the coalition government’s survival, even if it means a re-election. He still has a year to go in office and if a week is a long time in politics, 364 days make for an era. Dropping outrageous tax claims on MNCs in India, amending article 66A and not letting the IPL be held hostage to the whims of allies are some of the things that he can choose to do something about. Mr Singh would be much respected if he admits to his government’s shortcomings instead of telling us what a brilliant job it is doing.

There’s a telling scene in the film, Chak De India, where the jaded women’s hockey team player compares the idealistic coach Kabir Khan to Tughlaq. The difference is that Khan steers the team to a world cup victory within a month.  Come on Mr Prime Minister Sir! We need you to be our Kabir Khan, not our Manmohan bin Tughlaq!

PS: Dogs in Bangalore chase cars just so they can get a glimpse of what idiot pays Rs 77 for a litre of petrol.

Priya kale


Image By: Swarnabha Bannerjee

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  • Vijai

    I agree. You see in every TV interview that some doyen of Congress raj explains the challenges of running a coalition government and how they are helpless as congress within the UPA coalition. Ridiculous as it might sound, our PM disappoints me more than the TV debate warriors his party sponsors. The man ought to have chosen a re-election or at least threatened to do so for negotiating a free-hand in running the Government.

  • Badari Narayanan

    Disagree that MMS is a man of integrity. A watchman for a bunch of robbers is also a criminal

  • kusalovir

    Persons who know how a cabinet form of government functions, know that the 1991-1996 economic reform was the brainchild of the great visionary Prime Minister PV Narsimha Rao who had picked MMS on his sole qualification of being a political lightweight who could be dropped from the cabinet without any flutter had he dared to dither. If the reforms were not the doings of the PM Rao, he would not have tolerated MMS in his cabinet even for a day. History is very cruel, and it will ultimately do justice to both, Rao and Dr. Man Mohan Singh, albeit it may take some time.

  • shamanth

    Coal scam happened DIRECTLY under his watch. How many more years are journalists and other Indians going to spend in the illusion that he is a man of integrity. It does not end at “DO NO EVIL.” SEE NO EVIL is also a pillar of integrity.

  • humanity

    I think coalition politics is a good thing for India, though going from a tumultuous phase. In this unsettling era coalition government is held hostage to likes of Mulayam, Mayawati and Karunanidhi. But as this dust will settle down, politicians who can provide good governance at grass-root level will reap benefits and likes of Nitish, Naveen patnaik will be in a position to leverage more and in turn will provide poor people to be a part of political canvas in real sense

  • Sunshine

    MMS is a get away driver for crooks. So, always waiting outside the bank without drawing much attention to himself by keeping quiet.

  • shaktifabian


  • Rajivi

    I loved this article and became ur fan..Keep going..Good luck

  • The Suit

    Great article!