Aditya Sinha | Sunday, October 2, 2011
The other day, while TV played endless clips of Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram acting as if they had just been given a spanking by the headmistress, relief arrived in the form of a promo for the new Dev Anand film, Chargesheet. It was jaw-dropping: not in the way that Rajnikanth’s high-speed head-spinning was in Endhiran, but in the way that Dev Anand still believes himself to be a stud, perhaps surpassing even Salman Khan in machismo. He even dances towards the end of the promo (I think; or perhaps he’s just lying on the ground, kicking a booze-bottle, I couldn’t tell). I wondered whether or not Dev Anand suffered this kind of demented vainglory when he starred in Hum Dono, Guide, Johny Mera Naam, Hare Rama Hare Krishna or even Des Pardes, films which led boys like me to believe he really was the archetype of hero. I wondered when Dev Anand would finally stop appearing in films (until I realised, boy, what a stupid question). And then I wondered whether or not it was this Dev Anand-type self-love which promises to keep two men going for the rest of the decade (and possibly beyond): Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and BJP charioteer LK Advani. Again, I realised, silly me: what a dumb question.
Let’s face it. The prime minister will last the next 32 months, and he will be the Congress candidate for the top job in the next parliamentary elections. No, I’m not being my usual reckless ad absurdum self. Just look at the events of the past week: the PM gave a muscular press conference during his return from New York, telling journalists that Chidambaram enjoyed his confidence, that the Opposition was unnecessarily howling at the moon, and that the government would last its full term and surprise Indians with its initiatives, etc, etc. These were not the words of a man with his back to the wall, but those of a man who had just had his fill at the fountain of youth.
Then there was the Pranab-Chidambaram war that broke out into full public view. How happy Manmohan Singh must have been.
Notice that the men fighting were the very two men who are spoken of whenever there is speculation about the next Congress PM. (Only the truly naïve believe that either Defence Minister AK Antony or Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde could ever qualify for the top job.) Thus, the two men who are the only threats to Manmohan Singh stand diminished. Not just in the eyes of the Congress President, but also in the eyes of the party rank-and-file and the ordinary voter. Rumours during the past few weeks had it that Pranab saw a window of opportunity to become deputy PM closing. It is, for all purposes, now closed. He won’t be going to Rashtrapati Bhawan, which is to get a new occupant next year, either. Chidambaram may have got a breather, but there’s a Supreme Court hearing on October 10 which must be giving him sleepless nights. It would not be surprising if he eventually goes the way of former foreign minister K Natwar Singh or former Cabinet heavyweight Arjun Singh. The UPA-2 has become like a medieval court, where two powerful advisors to the monarch are made to neutralise one another. Come to think of it, wasn’t the controversial 2G note at the heart of this skirmish leaked by the prime minister’s office?
If internally there is no challenge to the PM (the party boss is perhaps too distracted by personal issues to take the job herself, and the reluctance of family members will probably increase after the party’s showing in the UP assembly polls a few months from now), there is none externally either. The BJP remains a confused party bogged down by uninspiring leadership and a Dev Anand-type whom everyone is too polite to simply ignore.
Narendra Modi may give corporate India a hard-on but he can never attain power at the Centre for his party or coalition. No wonder his party keeps mentioning the possible candidature of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar; it’s not just to keep Nitish in check but to also follow the old Indian political trick of subverting a candidate by repeatedly speculating on their name. (The only person to overcome this jinx was AB Vajpayee.) We Indians truly are like crabs in a barrel.
With no one within to challenge him and no opposition, it is a safe bet that Manmohan Singh will remain our PM till the next elections, and possibly the elections after that. He’s only 79, a full eight years younger than that other Punjabi born in Pakistan, Dharam Dev Anand. Like Dev Anand, Manmohan Singh’s best work is behind him: the implementation of PV Narasimha Rao’s economic liberalisation policy, and the con job that was the Indo-US nuclear deal. Like Dev Anand, Manmohan Singh sees himself as the clean-cut hero of the film he is in. And like Dev Anand, Manmohan Singh does not have the word ‘retirement’ in his vocabulary.
— The writer is the Editor-in-Chief, DNA, based in Mumbai