For a long time, Manmohan Singh was an asset to the Congress. He stood for the values of efficiency, being a technocrat, a financial expert and most obviously, not being a politician. There was some amount of wonder at the problem about how he was going to handle the allies and other political problems that the Congress parties faced (rebellions, dissension, suppression of powerful regional leaders, and so on) and it was quite clear right in the beginning that these would remain with the political leadership of the country, that Sonia Gandhi would be handling these while Manmohan Singh would be handling the cabinet. Even though this was not seen as an ideal situation, the country would think that finally you had an expert running the country, and things would be better. The Congress had some allies during the first term, the UPA – I, but there was a lot of sympathy for the Congress because of the presence of allies such as the Communist parties which were seen as ideological parties that would berate the Government for anything against their ideology. The first kind of disgruntlement came about when the Prime Minister stood for the nuclear deal with the US and the Left withdrew support. The deals to get a confidence vote in Parliament was the first indicator that the Congress retained a highly corrupt core, and that you cannot see the Prime Minister as totally separate from this. During the time leading to the next elections in 2009, there were some reports about 2G, but they were not enough to get more people to vote in favor of the Congress, which was seen as a resounding vote in favor of Manmohan Singh, and the arrangement was here to stay.
The happy part of its life was over, and almost since the brief honeymoon period where the Government wanted to push for a 100 day period in which to showcase some important measures, the 2G scam blew up. Media reports, CAG reports, Supreme Court monitoring, all of these determined to push the Government onto the backfoot. And ever since then, the Government has not been able to come back on the front foot. The problems relating to the Commonwealth Games funding and the loot that happened remained in headlines for a long time, with the corruption being personified by Kalmadi searing the Congress. It proved to be a shame for the country as eventually many countries withdrew from the event and even the culprit is roaming free after wasting so much of taxpayers money. Even by this time, there were some reports that the party was getting confused about why the Government was not able to handle matters, why it was getting so badly clouted in the perception of corruption.
And things continued to go worse, with more problems being reported from time to time. Even regional issues such as the construction of the Adarsh building in Mumbai enveloped the Congress in a cloud of corruption. In all of these, even though there were reports that the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was involved, he and the party were able to maintain that the Prime Minister was personally honest. The statement about alliance compulsions did get some criticism, but people tend to accept such matters as well. And then the Coal scandal blew up. The effect was bigger than what struck Hiroshima and Nagasaki and in seconds the situation completely changed to Advantage BJP. After all, in this case, for many of the years in question, the Coal ministry was under Manmohan Singh. There were already reports about how there was evidence that the allocations were done in a not-so-honest manner, that they were done to benefit certain sets of people, and all of these would be directed at the Prime Minister. The biggest question was: Who cares if he is still honest, but if he can’t stop corruption, then he should be counted as corrupt.
By this time, the economic growth in the country had slowed to a trickle, due to political paralysis and the wastage of nearly every Parliament session then on. The political environment for the Congress was poisonous, and there were a lot of worries for the next election. A push to Rahul Gandhi was desired, but his wierd statements and complete lack of interest made the Congress rethink on its decision.
And then the matter of the CBI affidavit and the corruption scandal enveloping Pawan Kumar Bansal came up. Now, Ashwani Kumar and Bansal are not widely popular Congress leaders, both of them are seen as favorites of the Prime Minister. But, the environment against them was brutal. For Pawan Bansal, the media was getting into a fight about how many more problematic details could they get out, and for Ashwani kumar, his involvement in the attempt to modify the CBI report made him a very high profile target, one that was seen by both the media and the opposition. It is against the nature of the Congress to drop somebody under pressure, but the media attention was threatening the Congress. It had already brutally destroyed the brief glow after the Karnataka results and the decimation of the BJP. And the reports just before their sacking were interesting. These reports, from apparent insiders, pointed out that the Prime Minister was unwilling to sack them, and he had done so only after the goading of Sonia Gandhi. Now, these reports may have further attempted to push up the reputation of Sonia Gandhi, but they effectively further tarnished the reputation of the PM. His person honest reputation was now being blaster left and right, and Congressmen were unwilling to stand up in front of the media and save him, as he was no more an asset but a liability.
Now, what would the Congress see in Manmohan Singh ? They see a man with a horrible reputation, they see a man who has tied up the economy in knots, who has reduced the growth rate to a many year low, and one who is being seen as a liability. At the same time, getting rid of the Prime Minister means jettisoning their record of the past 9 years to some degree. Now that is what happens when you have two power centres, a good man ends up getting a national approval rating of 3%, and sadly, he still continues as the Prime Minister of the Republic of India
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