Indian Decade


Manmohan Singh is more and more unpopular at home. Thank the Obama administration.

As others have noted here, on March 9, the Indian Parliament’s Upper House passed an epochal bill that would reserve a third of the seats in Parliament and state assemblies for women. Yet, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was absent from media coverage. His party had ensured that the spotlight went elsewhere, mainly to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who was indeed the prime mover behind the passage of the bill. Since the Congress-led government first took office in 2004 and until this week, Sonia had been content to remain in the background while the PM took centre stage. No longer.

His colleagues say that the primary reason for the shunting to the backstage of Singh is his growing unpopularity within his party. The reason given is the perception that India’s PM is ready to bend over backwards, forwards and sideways in order to accommodate nudges from the Obama administration. An example given is Singh’s known backing for the introduction of genetically modified aubergines, despite warnings that this may devastate the over 200 local varieties of the vegetable. Despite Singh’s views, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh nixed the GM food.

Then, there’s the PM’s pushing for a Nuclear Liability Act that would put an absurdly low cap of $100 million on compensation by the equipment supplier for any nuclear accident. His insistence that such a law be passed results from pressure from the Obama administration, which is eager to indemnify US companies against another Bhopal-type disaster.

Another ‘Obamastroke’ was the recent reversal of the Indian government’s position that there would not be substantive talks with Pakistan unless that country stopped assisting terror groups active in India. Despite no comfort from Islamabad on this score, Singh personally ordered the External Affairs Ministry to resume talks with Pakistan, overriding the objections of his team. And the latest perceived kowtow to US dictates has been the (PM-ordered) pullback of Indian operations in Afghanistan. It’s no secret in Delhi that Pakistan’s army chief A P Kiyani had told Gen. Stanley McChrystal that such a withdrawal by India was a pre-condition to greater cooperation by Pakistan.

A week ago, the leader of the opposition, L K Advani, openly accused the prime minister of acting on the instructions of the Obama administration, which received an angry response from Manmohan Singh but silence from his own colleagues. Forecasting Indian politics is hazardous for anyone’s credibility, but it looks as though Manmohan Singh’s political capital is fast drying up, courtesy of the Obama administration. Will India see a Rahul Gandhi administration by early 2011?