In 2004, many people I know heaved a huge sigh of relief when Congress President Sonia Gandhi listened to her ‘inner voice’ and decided in a stroke of genius she didn't want to be the country's prime minister, despite the confident victory fought for under her name in the general elections that year.
Back then, much of the country couldn't have been more supportive of her personal appointee, erudite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Six years on though, several Singh supporters I know feel somewhat differently. Even as the popular US magazine, Newsweek, hailed him as one of ‘The Leaders Other (world) Leaders Love’ in a cover story last month, Singh's popularity has diminished here in India.
Singh is now seen by many as ineffective, insufficiently driven and, worse, just plain uninspiring. Ironically, it's his trademark subtle and understated style that other world leaders aspire to. Newsweek said: ‘Singh’s unassuming personal style really inspires awe among his fellow global luminaries, who praise him for being modest, humble, and incorruptible’. The magazine also quoted former International Atomic Energy Agency director general and Egyptian presidential challenger Mohamed ElBaradei as saying Singh is ‘the model of what a political leader should be’.
Closer to home, a recent poll by India Today, a popular weekly news magazine, showed 29 percent of respondents saw Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi as their preferred prime minister, with only 1 percent opting for Singh, down a whopping 17 percent from his standing last year.
India Today wrote: ‘The enormity of Rahul's popularity is further magnified by the shrinking acceptability of Manmohan Singh as prime minister. His fall is so drastic and certainly embarrassing for him in his sixth year as prime minister that there seems be a clear case of disconnect between the much marketed moderniser and the unforgiving Indian public. There is only one message: Brand Manmohan has already passed its use-by date and the voters want the family (read Rahul) back in power.’
It's a sentiment I’ve heard more and more recently. So why is Singh still leader? He doesn’t seem to be the kind of person who would cling to power come what may. Apparently, though, his ‘bosses’ don't think his time is up quite yet.