Manmohan Singh‘s unique selling proposition (USP), especially with the urban middle-class, has been his squeaky clean image in the “cesspool of Indian politics”. No scam or scandal or slipup under his watch begins without a mandatory mantra of the “prime minister’s personal integrity being beyond question”.
The artfully constructed scaffolding came unstuck last year with the 2G spectrum allocation and Commonwealth Games (CWG) scams although Congress’ media miesters rushed to certify that the PM had nothing to do with the scandals. Even that weak defence fell with the S-band issue and the nomination of the chief vigilance commissioner.
Now, in a further blow, the latest tranche of cables sent by American diplomats based in India, published by The Hindu, shows the huge pile of muck that lies rotting outside 7, Race Course Road.
“Five days before the Manmohan Singh government faced a crucial vote of confidence on the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal in 2008, a political aide to Congress leader Satish Sharma showed a US embassy employee “two chests containing cash” he said was part of a bigger fund of Rs 50 crore to Rs 60 crore that the party had assembled to purchase the support of MPs. The aide also claimed the four MPs belonging to Ajit Singh‘s Rashtriya Lok Dal had already been paid Rs. 10 crore each to ensure they voted the right way on the floor of the Lok Sabha.”
The cable only confirms what had been public knowledge with the widely televised “cash for votes” scandal.
But read together with the JMM scandal of the early 1990s, when his mentor P.V. Narasimha Rao, bought the votes of MPs of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in a similar deal, it raises a few uncomfortable questions about Manmohan Singh’s “personal integrity”.
Is personal integrity just about physically receiving money, or does it extend to other parameters? Is silence an indication of collusion? Are the Congress and its allies (like NCP and DMK) using the PM’s image to make merry? Or is Manmohan Singh a master of the realpolitik, a pragmatic politician who knows how to balance various countervailing forces while doing his job as best as he can, inshallah?
External reading: Madhu Kishwar on Manmohan Singh