On board PM’s special aircraft, Oct. 24: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today invoked the famous hare and tortoise analogy to declare that the Narendra Modi-led BJP election campaign had “started early but will also peak early” while the “slow and steady” Congress would “come out victorious in the 2014 elections”.
Exuding an air of calm confidence after wrapping up two successful bilateral summits in Moscow and Beijing, the Prime Minister also iterated that he was ready to be questioned by the CBI on the coal block allocation issue if called upon to do so.
The Prime Minister, speaking to the media on his flight home, initially refused to comment on whether it was right for the CBI to question him. “This matter is with the courts. I would not like to comment on it,” he said.
But in response to a direct query if he would be ready to be questioned in connection with the controversial coal block allocation to Kumar Mangalam Birla’s Hindalco, Singh said: “I am not above the law of the land. If the CBI or anybody for that matter wants to ask, I have nothing to hide.”
Singh refused to comment when asked if the overactive role of the Supreme Court, in ordering and monitoring probes in alleged corruption scandals as well as laying out policy directions, was helping the executive or contributing to what the government’s critics term “policy paralysis”.
“I wouldn’t like to go into what is happening in the court. The Supreme Court is the final court of our country. I wouldn’t like to comment on what the court does or what the court does not,” the Prime Minister said.
While he said this in his usual stoic manner, it was in answer to political questions that the “apolitical PM” showed flashes of emotion that bordered on the combative.
He did not name Modi but made allusions to the BJP’s high-pitched campaign more than once. He also sounded dismissive about the impact of the many scams that have rocked the UPA-II regime while asserting that the Congress would return to power again.
The Prime Minister’s first allusion to the Modi phenomenon came in answer to a question on Rahul Gandhi’s recent remark that he too could be killed the way his grandmother and father were killed. Asked if the government had any information of any threat to him or anybody targeting him or whether it was the “hate politics” of the Opposition parties that made Rahul say this, the Prime Minister seized on the last point. He said: “Well, I and all sane persons should be worried about the politics of hate now sweeping the country.” He went on to say: “As regards the threat to the life of Rahul Gandhi, government will take all possible precautions that this threat does not materialise.”
If that was an indirect swipe at Modi’s brand of aggressive politics, the Prime Minister was much more direct when asked how the Congress hoped to meet the BJP’s challenge, considering the BJP campaign was up and running and the Congress’s had yet to take off.
It was in answer to this question that he trotted out the hare and tortoise race fable. “I think the BJP may have started early but I think it will also peak early and slow and steady, I think, is the thing which sometimes works in public life as well and I am confident that the Congress party will come out victorious in the 2014 elections.”
He repeated the same sentiment when asked to comment on how the series of scandals (2G, CWG, coal) had hit his government’s credibility leading to the rising popularity of Modi.
Sounding supremely dismissive of the Modi threat, the Prime Minister said the “scams” in question took place not in UPA-II but during UPA-I. “After that we had a general election. The Congress party won in that election hands down and I am sure when the results of 2014 come out, the country will once again be surprised.”
This assertion could well ignite a political storm because while the decisions on 2G, coal allocations et al may have been taken in Singh’s first term, the “scams” came into the open only in his second term.
But if the Opposition seizes upon this as a case of misinformation clubbed with arrogance, it could equally enthuse the Congress cadres who would much prefer a combative Prime Minister to a silent one as election campaigns get off the ground.
Singh’s assertion that the country would “once again” be surprised was something of a reminder to the Opposition that despite the shrill campaign against the “weakest ever Prime Minister” during the 2009 general election, the Congress had returned to power by winning many more seats than in 2004.
That he remains confident of a repeat performance and unruffled by the barrage of criticism faced in his second term was evident from his reply to another personal question.
Asked if the series of scandals and the possibility of being questioned by the CBI had cast a shadow on his legacy of 10 years, the Prime Minister assumed a Zen-like calm and seemed to be quoting from the Bhagvad Gita. “I am doing my duty. I will continue to do my duty. What impact my 10 years of prime ministership will have is something which is for historians to judge,” he said.