Manmohan Bin Tughlaq
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.
Image By: Swarnabha Bannerjee