Former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, second left, Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar, left and Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, center left, accompany former Lower House speaker of Indian Parliament Meira Kumar, center right, as she walks to file her nomination papers for the president election at the parliament house in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, June 28, 2017. Kumar is the opposition candidate for the Presidential election scheduled be held next month. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup
As a politician, Manmohan Singh has nursed a grudge throughout his eventful career, saying average Congressmen do not understand economics. The Congress's decision to boycott the midnight rollout of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a glaring example of this.
On his part, Manmohan too has evolved as a politician. Gone are the days when he sulked and threatened to resign if his economic thinking was rejected by the party. Nowadays, the good doctor senses the mood of the party leadership, deliberates and then takes a stand that finds favour with Sonia Gandhi. This has proved an important tool in his survival kit.
For the outside world, Manmohan appears to be Sonia’s cipher, but in reality she is in awe of him, often acknowledging his intellect and experience and rarely confronting him. This was evident from the manner in which she backed him on the 2008 India-US civil nuclear deal. Instead of siding with the Left leaders, who were offering themselves as ‘trusted friends’, Sonia went along with Manmohan because she trusted his judgement. This was an important factor in why the division of power between the Congress president and the Prime Minister worked between 2004 and 2014.
In November 2015, Manmohan had earned all-round praise when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team were struggling to ensure the smooth passage of GST Bill in Parliament. Saviour Manmohan entered the scene and arranged a meeting between Modi and Sonia. During the meeting the former Prime Minister reportedly marshalled arguments in favour of GST and convinced Sonia to support the Bill inside Modi’s residence.
On Wednesday when Sonia met Manmohan, she reportedly conveyed the party’s feelings that it was against the idea of his sharing the dais when GST is rolled out. He tamely gave in. Though the economist in him was tempted to attend the GST launch and take some credit for it, the politician in him prevailed.
Just like the November 2016 demonetisation, the Congress under Sonia is according greater weight to opposition unity (siding with Trinamool) and hoping to encash the GST implementation hardships. It feels this may offer a window of opportunity to corner the Modi regime. A similar thought process had prompted the Congress to oppose demonetisation but politically it gained almost next to nothing.
For some, politician Manmohan Singh is doing injustice of sorts by failing to take a firm, pro-GST stand and using his goodwill to convince Sonia to move with the tide. After all, the great Indian middle class still views the Congress differently from Trinamool Congress or Left parties.
(Rasheed Kidwai is the Associate Editor with The Telegraph. His Twitter handle is: @rasheedkidwai)
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