The “Man” who betrayed himself


We assume that knowledge, learning and professionalism is what makes the difference between an “extractive” policracy and a “developmental” one. This builds on the modern Indian tradition of education being the path to progress and the high ritual status given to learned Brahmins, poets, literatures and artists in ancient India. Dr Radhakrishnan (1962-67), Dr Zakir Hussain (1967-69), Dr Abdul Kalam (2002-07) and Pandit Nehru (1947-1964) did not disappoint in their actions as President/Prime Minister by remaining true to their intellectual integrity.

In 2004 when Dr Manmohan Singh was selected by Mrs Gandhi to became PM, there was relief that after a hiatus of two decades, India would again be led by an “intellectual” far above the hurly burly of election politics, with no personal stake and no motive, except to “wipe the tears from the eyes of the poorest Indian” (the Mahatma). We exulted when Dr. Singh showed his mettle in initiating change in our energy policy, continuing the BJP approach in external relations of abandoning the deadweight of polarizing ideology, unless it served national interest and seemingly putting Indian on the track of fast growth with social inclusion. In 1984 he was an accidental choice as PM, out of the several other “old” faces around, who were considered politically innocuous enough, to keep the seat warm for Rahul.

In 2009 we voted for Dr Singh, based on his record of the past five years but also based on our belief,  that more and better was to come. He and the Congress with him, won and the deluge began. Like the collapse of the mountains above Kedarnath, the lofty edifice built up by reputation and public expectations cracked and collapsed under the weight of timidity, poor political instincts but most importantly self-betrayal.

Dr Singh betrayed himself time and again as he turned a Nelson’s eye to massive corruption, allowed decision making to be subverted by unconscionably partisan politics and sloth. He defined the integrity of the highest executive position in India as a narrowly construed “personal” integrity and in doing so reverted to his essentially “babu” roots of keeping “his desk clean”. Even this is questioned in the 2G scam and Coalgate, though most would put down the seeming links to him, to a secretariat, outside of his control. He betrayed his profession, since economics played, at best a marginal role, in the working of his cabinet. He betrayed his earlier characterization of himself as a Sher (Singh) and appeared to meekly toe the backward looking, ineffective and contradictory party line. In acting thus, he debased the high office he holds. Who holds the Nuclear “button” today is really the question?  and does the World believe that Dr. Singh would be allowed to press it should the situation warrant?

Could he have acted differently? Was he constrained by the limitations imposed on “outsiders” joining the “policracy” laterally, as Russi Mody was in Air India or Sudhir Muljee in the State Trading Corporation? The analogy itself nails the absurdity of the comparison. When the going gets tough, the tough get going….one way or another.  

Here is some gratuitous advice to Dr. Singh. It is not too late to resign. Rahul is ripe to take over and we would all welcome his coming out of the shadows. More importantly, when you became PM you became “our” PM, not the Congress Party’s representative. You are, hopefully, not just any other policrat. Please preserve our faith in the belief that professionals and intellectuals are actually “high minded” enough to work against their own self-interest. Are you scared that once the “immunity” of high office is lifted the opposition will go after you hammer and tongs and even your own party will “sacrifice” you, just as they failed to support you, when you fought your first and only election in South Delhi in 2004? Surely, as the PM, you have a “black book” in the “cloud” which will act as “insurance”? Please do it now, so that all of us, who believe that education and erudition results in intellectual integrity and purposefulness, can continue to dream.

T.N. Seshan (Chief Election Commissioner 1990-1996), another babu, turned upon the political machine which created him, once he was given a high constitutional position. But he served us Indians well by working against election malpractices. Most recently, Raghuram Rajan (RBI Governor) has done exactly the same by ignoring the noise of corporate and government “likes” and remaining true to his intellectual integrity and commitment to the poor, by targeting inflation, rather than pandering to the optics of growth orientation…just as his babu predecessor (Subba Rao) had done. This is a time honored tradition amongst babus. We sup with anyone who parties in the evening, but come the morning, we do the “right” thing, no matter what the consequences. There are thousands of babus who do this for 35 long years of their working lives and are none the worse for it. Please shed your intellectual robes and become the babu you have been. 

47 thoughts on “The “Man” who betrayed himself

  1. Dear Mr Ahluwalia,
    You have dealt with many a serious topic in your blog, issues which touch upon our lives in more ways than one.
    I look forward to a write up on issues related to infrastructure, state spending on infra projects through institutions like PWDs and construction PSUs (or SPVs) who have doubtful expertise in modern methods, poor appraisal skills and levels of integrity / honestry about which less said the better. Huge national wealth is poured down the drain – one example is the case of a person who was a diploma holder and made the chief engineer in some state enterprise and amassed wealth which is giving CBI/ED a lot to work upon! Should we be looking at an All India Service which may be able to control the rot? I look forward to your blog on this issue.

  2. Oh my, seeing Dr. Singh on TV, silently sitting and never speaking or communicating, surely reminded me of the monarchy in Britain.. . .disdain, arrogance. . . . I am so hopeful that India will finally rid herself of the last vestiges of the Brits and the Congress party who has ruled , oh these many years! Thank you for letting an American woman express her opinions! Democracy is a wonderful thing!

  3. When Babus don’t Dare:
    While we were In BA (Hons) Economics at Hindu College, a Test was conducted by our Teacher Shri Maheshwari — I stood 1st with 80% marks, and was awarded the Merit Scholarship named ‘Mrs Marion Barlow Merit Scholarship’; Mr. Vinod Rai came 2nd in that Test. Later on, I joined the Delhi School of Economics and subsequently the IAF, and Mr Rai went abroad for his studies and, later, joined IAS. While he was working as a Joint Secretary (in-charge of the Wing that oversaw the work of IAF) in Ministry of Defence, he used Army’s BroadArrow car for commuting from his house to South Block and back (etc) and the Army’s Delhi Sub-Area fabricated its records to cover that mileage (e.g. car’s Log-Book recorded some military duty such as a military exercise etc); in addition, he came across a case of corruption in which the then Chief of Air Staff was involved. But Mr Rai did nothing either to protect the whistle-blower (Me) or to get the said CAS punished. However, when he knew that he, as CAG, was at the fag end of his career, he tried to ‘expose’ corruption in others — under the Army Act, misuse of service car amounts to theft of petrol.

    Anomalies in ‘public services’:
    1) Two candidates take UPSC Exams the same year — one of them, by virtue of higher aggregate Marks is selected for the IAS; the second makes it only to the IPS. Incidentally, both get the same State-Cadre and also get posted to the same city. An year later, they get happily married. Did you notice anything amiss? Of course not, except that:
    Today, the IAS Officer’s wife hires an auto-rickshaw (on sharing basis) to visit the nearest Shopping Mall, while the spouse of IPS Officer goes there in her hubby’s official car (driven by a Head-Constable) and an Orderly in the tow.
    2) A third candidate fails in the Prelims itself (leave alone ‘Mains’ and the ‘Viva Voce’) and, instead of taking up some job, decides to continue his studies — but due to his low Marks at the graduation-level, he fails to get admission in any of the most sought after P-G Courses. So, he settles for an LLB. After he passes the 3-year Course, he gets enrolled as an Advocate but fails to get Clients — with a heavy heart he joins his father’s SME (small or medium business enterprise) but without voluntarily suspending the Advocate’s License issued to him by the State Bar Council. This was 10 years back.
    Without any Written Exams — nay, without even a Viva Voce, he is elevated to the Bench of a High Court; on a PIL (filed by an NGO) he summons the Chief Secretary (senior most IAS Officer) of the State in order to tell the latter as to how a government should be run.

  4. A very well written article…..
    Well i felt that on the day 1 we know that he’s been a good captain but not a good king as he always didn’t have the will power and leadership quality…we voted him for his economist background but he has no control over his own MPS and PMO which made him fall flat on ground….This decade told us that PM can never be a stamp…he/she has to be a strong person representing the highest post of the democratic country to the world….i now aplaud Mr. Vajpayee for his for-site and his believe which for an instance divert the economy in the positive direction.

  5. This is perhaps the most damaging legacy of Mr. Singh – disillusionment of the younger generation with the idea that an upright and competent economist could lead and inspire based on personal example. We are tired of being cynical. He could have inspired so many bright and capable people to public service and politics. We could have so many the likes of Arvind Kejriwal working constructively to improve the system from within rather than confronting and agitating ?

  6. Good for you Sanjeev for speaking out. But I can believe you are Montek’s brother. Sorry to say that but I dont hold him in high regard. He symbolizes crony capitalism.

  7. Mr. Ahluwalia – your crime is that of a career & life WASTED!!! with your education etc., you could have done so much more. It is a crime to lay all the education & professional opportunities you got, waste…just to collect your pension & earn ‘consultancy’ once your mediocre, nameless career is put out of its misery by the inevitablity of retirement. Enjoy it!

  8. A bit late Mr. Ahluwalia? You collaborated & perpetuated the very status quo that has blighted the country…and now belatedly you trash it. Looking for a lucrative ‘consultancy’ when the big-bad-wolf Mr. Modi comes to power? Cozying upto Shahzada Rahul baba? Too little…too late. Enjoy the anonymity & mediocrity of retirement as you ponder over a wasted career. Someone with your mind & education could & should have done more for the country than make the case for Shahzada becoming Zille Subhani.

  9. Finally someone to whom MMS can listen to has spoken what we we all have been saying. If MMS thinks his job is the most important in the country, he should put the country first and make tough calls. He has probably overdrawn his goodwill account assiduously built all these years.

  10. कब तक मौन रहोगे मोहन
    धर्म की ज्वाला बुझ चुकी है
    अधर्म कर रहा ध्वजारोहण
    कब तक मौन रहोगे मोहन !
    भ्रस्ठाचारी दीमक बनकर
    कर रहे भारत माँ का दोहन
    कब तक मौन रहोगे मोहन !
    महंगाई सुरसा की भांति
    है बैठी फैलाय अपना फ़न
    कब तक मौन रहोगे मोहन !
    भटक रहा है युवा विचलित
    भूखा बिलख रहा है बचपन
    कब तक मौन रहोगे मोहन !
    सीता अकेली घर से न निकले
    हर मोड़ पर आज खड़े हैं रावण
    कब तक मौन रहोगे मोहन !
    शिखंडी सा मान भारत को
    पडोसी दे रहा द्वार पर तोरण
    कब तक मौन रहोगे मोहन !
    क्यों तुम बन गए सोनिया-सेवक
    पूछ रहा भारत का हर जन
    कब तक मौन रहोगे मोहन !
    गुरु गोबिंद के वंशज हो
    कृपाण उठाओ न रहो तुम कृपण
    कब तक मौन रहोगे मोहन !
    अब तो कुछ करो मनमोहन
    कब तक मौन रहोगे मोहन !
    अब तो कुछ करो मनमोहन
    —————–कैलाश जोशी

  11. My boss used to say that as long as the security guard at the gate indulged in some shady thing without the knowledge of the in-charge, the latter could claim “cleanliness”. The moment he came to know and decided to keep quiet, he was part of corruption,

    If this could be applied to a mere in-charge of an establishment, do we need to say anything explicitly about in-charge of nation?

    Having served as a babu with distinction, as a great FM in Rao’s cabinet, he literally had earned his laurels & nothing more to look forward to by hanging on to PM’s chair. He could have just gone by his principles. But he didn’t.

    In the 2G scam, newspapers, TV and the society were shouting at the top of their voice at the blatantly partisan acts of Raja. Then MMS had a great opportunity. He could have sacked Raja. If DMK withdrew the support and government had fallen, he would have been the martyr, he could have gone to people which would have resulted in two things – given a strong message that just because you supported the coalition, you couldn’t take people for a ride. Second, MMS would have come back through the front door – Lok Sabha, in flying colors and would be a knight in shining armour!

    But it was not to be. Instead, he exactly acted like Dhritarashtra and shielded Raja. Recall that it was the Supreme Court which was responsible for Raja’s ouster.

    He talked about “compulsions of coaltion” which I doubt even the late wafer-thin majority PM Chandrashekhar did.

    Personal integrity is the luxury of clerk in government office, because he is (almost) only responsible for his functions. Unfortunately, this is no good, when it comes to PM and hence, MMS having not taken a single paisa as bribe does not absolve him of the corruption of his ministers.

    Certainly, Sanjeev has given a good advice. Like all “good” advice, it is bitter for the recipient.!

  12. MMS should be prosecuted for betrayal with public and the PM post.. only way he can wash away his sins is to become a gov witness and tell everything that he knows about corrupt and corruption and kept a blind eye till now to supreme court and more importantly indian public…

  13. When there is anarchy in the state, rulers/politicians automatically become tyrannous. Congress is the sole reason behind this anarchy and hence behind corruption. It is sad that after 65 years of independece we can name only a few PMs who were worthy of the post.

    ps: rahul gandhi is not even worthy of becoming a peon.

  14. Succinctly said but the main focus has been lost. MMSingh in his first tenure carried on with the BJP policy and in the later years of the first tenure itself lost focus due to narrow political gamesplan, timid as he was started to roar like a lion, ignorant of the fact that even lions have to hunt and kill for themselves. A chance given in the 2004 era was forgotten and like every human or Indian for that matter, power went to his head.The poor were ignored and stupid parameters were drawn ala the Minority count in the Army and other services, which could have been avoided.As all statistics are with the Govt of the day one doesn’t need to show off.Possibly he was eyeing the bigger pie of the vote bank politics and to proclaim whom- the queen mother. Now I very much doubt so as my other friends and colleagues that he will ever resign and will be forced out by the young and desperate brigade of the congress who are getting increasingly restive by the hour and day.

  15. It is not still onto the ground, A well above over the common man article by Babus, who sit in their wary offices and think of aam aadmi (their own people) as objects . They almost always forget to serve the people they are there to serve. A government’s servent they become.
    You are looking forward to Rahul Gandhi? What he has done for India? Has he ever worried about India. There is always a lack of courage in Babus which is also very much reflected in your article as you talk against MMS but not against Congress party directly the root cause of curroption ,Mayhem this country be , and still looking forward to Rahul Gandhi.
    When will the time come , Babus will serve people not their political Masters ?

  16. MMS may not have the freedom to resign also. It is sad that one woman has destroyed the future of a country of billion people. Why should her son take over? What his qualification to be the PM of the country? How long should this country be ruled by this dynasty? And why?

  17. Rahul is ripe to take over and we would all welcome his coming out of the shadows.. just wondering what make you believe that.

  18. Is the premise that intellectuals have spine valid? Arent there many ordinary politicians with spine? And many intellectuals without one?

  19. Sanjeev, there is a brighter side to Manmohan Singh holding on. If he is not there then what has the congress to offer: A illiterate moron !

  20. Man of #intellectual things can’t work on others way. Need to take #strong steps towards Country’s Integrity and himself. Can’t downgrade yourself and talent you have.

  21. Absolutely. Well argued. Having risen to be Pm he had the intellect & the ability to do good only he bent down & finally stooped to the Party & it was all PARTY TIME for the professional rogues of the CONGRESS/ UPA. Sad it was an opportunity and the man could not seize it as he was indeed a Babu !!

  22. Have respected Dr. Manmohan Singh for his intellect, his zeal and the hard effort that he had put in to ensure that the country moves towards a progressive path.. But then, he is not a politician and like another erstwhile FM, VP Singh, he too has come up with his limitations when taking the highest chair in the country… Initially, one thought that he would prove himself over and above the rest of the sycophants that we have in the country, by not becoming a politician… However as akin to VP Singh, has proved every one wrong….

    Truly commented that the two real PM’s who had their own standing and stood out like colousses’, were N.Rao and ABV…. Narendra Modi too seems to have a mind of his own, but is he any where close to ABV to be able to stand up to the Sangh, who he needs desperately now, is another question (should he ever become PM)

  23. Superbly written! and it hits the nail. Just wanted to point out a typo in 2nd para, 2nd last line, it should be 2004 instead of 1984

  24. Sad, but every word of Sanjeev is true. I personally had such high respect, enthusiasm and expectations when MMS became the PM. Alas, he turned out to be the worst leader presiding and overlooking massive corruption and surrounding himself with and tolerating corrupt crooks.

  25. Sanjeev, there is intellectual dishonesty everywhere, including you. You stated the obvious, calling Madam’s Man Servant to resign. But, did you ever believe that MMS ever had the spine to stand up and take on corruption? If you ever believed that, there is only one phrase. “Dumb ass”.

    Genius of Indira Gandhi is making the President’s post dummy. Genius of Sonia Gandhi is making the Prime Minister’s post dummy. Look at the incompetent home ministers fostered on MMS. He should have had spine to say no to Shivraj Patil to start with and called for a competent home minister. The entire cabinet is nothing but guard dogs to Sonia/Rahul’s threshold.

    You call MMS to resign, so that Rahul can take over. Why not the courage to call Rahul a dumb ass? What were his achievements?

    On the other hand BJP is as corrupt as Congress. Who is stepping up?

    You pat yourself on the back that there are several babu’s that are squeaky clean. Sure. But what about the other segment of babus that are totally corrupt?

    1. Also, I wish if I could as him if he had ever slammed his brother (Montek) about his Rs. 32 per day BPL remark. I’m curious!

  26. you did not dare to speak when you were in Government. Everybody knows the compulsions of a coalition government. Corruption did not come over night. I will not go over night. Honourable supreme court of India taking steps slowly, similarly CBI. Some organisations like aam Admi Party coming and questioning which bigger parties could not

  27. Perfect article. Very true. In fact Mr. Sanjeev Ahluwalia has diplomatically said to MMS that he has degraded, demeaned Indian Babu ‘THE BUREAUCRACY’.

  28. Dear Sanjeev,
    I thank you for describing Mr Manmohan Singh- our prime minister. I admire
    your courage and it show your love for the Country. As lone as my Motherland has son
    like you, there is still some hope. I am afraid, our countryman are loosing Pride and hope.
    May GOD be with you.

    warmest regards,
    Bahadurshah Jaffar

  29. Nehru was neither corrupt not promoted corruption, but naive and lofty (who else would have told Eisenhower to give the permanent seat on the security council to china when it was offered to India); he set up this huge beaurocratic mechine that did damage to India taht will last for a long time into the future. Only Mr. Narasimha Rao can claim the mantle of being his own congressman and wisely kept the sycophants of the and the Nehru family away and steered the Indian economy (Mr. Singh tries to take the credit for economic revival, but given his performance, it is not clear how much he really is responsible). In the end, it is his spineless and rudderless leadership that has undone him. One have to mention Mr. Vajpayee-who wisely kept the Sangh Pariwar away and ran as India’s PM, These are giants who once occupied the PM post. Mr. Singh has become a sorry excuse despite all our hopes and wishes that he would stop all the nonsense and massive corruption by his party men. He sacrificed India and stymied the re-surence of India and history will not look kindly upon him. Unfortunate.

    1. I fully agree with the text of failures of the PM but I disagree on resignation. Instead time has come that the PM should assert himself as a true nationalist during rest of his tenure.

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