As part of the battle for their own survival the Congressmen are rallying behind Manmohan Singh. Their undisputed leader is carrying the fight into the opposite camp by charging that it is denigrating the institution of prime minister by dragging Singh's name in the recent scams. Her desperate moves to defend Singh at all costs are understandable because his carefully cultivated image of a person of great personal integrity has been the biggest asset for the Congress party. He has been the Congress' mascot since 1991 when his present leader's bete noire, the then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, had made him his Finance minister and supported him to the hilt in salvaging and then opening up Indian economy. But it was in May 2004 that Sonia Gandhi decided to make an icon of him by nominating him to the highest political office in the country. It was a masterly move; not only it put a halo of supreme sacrifice around her persona, it also placed an ever obedient, and now also most grateful, non-politician on the prime minister's chair. The Congress and its leader gained from his elevation because his sagely appearance and clean image stopped people, even many in the Opposition, from questioning many dubious decisions of the government; how could a government headed by him do any wrong? He got the benefit of doubt even in July 2008 when his beleaguered government, abandoned by its Leftist allies, reportedly purchased its way to win a crucial trial of strength in the Lok Sabha. His political mentor Narasimha Rao had not been so fortunate, he was convicted for having bribed the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MPs to vote his minority government to safety.
But Singh's luck ran out in the second year of his second government. Scam after scam, some of previously unheard of proportions, which owed their origin to his own inaction and immobility in the face of his colleagues' mountainous greed and avarice did not do any credit to his image. What made the situation worse was his spirited defence of his embattled associates. Time and again he tried to reassure people by claiming that all was well, be it in organising Commonwealth Games or in allotment of UAS telecom licences and 2G spectrum. But he could not for ever create smoke screens around reality, the truth came out and out went his unsullied reputation. He could not fool all the people all the time.
It is painful to say, but will be more painful if allowed to remain unsaid, that it is Manmohan Singh himself, who mostly by his acts of obvious inaction and by his unstinted support to various wrong-doers in his government, has lowered the dignity of his high office. The Opposition can be blamed, if at all in his case, of holding a mirror to him.