The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- A happy prime minister may not mean a lighthearted nation

The prime minister’s Independence Day address had about 5,329 listeners at Red Fort. Of them, 3,000 were schoolchildren. About 500 were civil servants and other personal invitees to the occasion. Another 1,500 were security staff. And 329 were people who turned up on their own to see the prime minister and hear him speak. The remaining 12,469,207 residents of Delhi were absent.

What did they miss' The prime minister’s address had 190 sentences. In their course, he used the word ‘we’ 94 times; roughly every other sentence started with this word. He also used ‘our’ 121 times, and ‘I’ 34 times.

These figures may give the impression that it was an egocentric speech. But such an allegation would be mistaken. For the prime minister did not use the royal we. When he said we, he meant ‘my government’. The speech was really meant to be a progress report on what his government had done over the past year.

But that was not always the sense in which ‘we’ was used. He also often used the word in the inclusive sense of ‘you and I’. It is difficult to give a precise figure for the proportion in which either sense was used, since sometimes it could have been used in both senses. But approximately, he used it in the sense of ‘you and I’ two-thirds of the times, and in the sense of ‘my government’ a third. In other words, he spent about two-thirds of the time on the achievements, aspirations and condition of the people of India — as he liked to see them — and a third on what his government had done, was doing and should do.

This is par for the course. I have not made a similar analysis of the speeches of previous prime ministers — partly because I was not half as interested in what they said — but I am sure that the ingredients of their speeches were the same: that they spent part of the time reporting on, boasting about, what their governments had done, and part of it exhorting the nation to scale new heights. This is probably true of all prime ministers from Jawaharlal Nehru onwards.

But there was a difference. This prime minister was very upbeat about India. He obviously thinks that we are doing well and going places.

Consider this: the going has never been as good for India in the past as it is now. Our economy has been growing at an impressive pace of over 8 per cent. Such rapid growth over three successive years is unprecedented in Indian history. Wherever I go, I see our nation on the move. Our industry and services sectors are showing impressive growth. I see a reassuring confidence in our industry in being able to take on the challenge of the rest of the world. The growth of the manufacturing industry has touched 11 per cent in the last quarter, generating many jobs for our youth and workers. I see our service sector competing with the best and earning valuable foreign exchange. All around us, we see new roads being built. The railways are expanding their reach. New power plants are being built. New airports are being planned. Vast industrial estates and special economic zones are coming up. This dynamism is the result of the enterprise, creativity and hard work of millions of Indians. They are boldly taking our country into the future, treading on untrodden paths. I am sure this will result in far greater prosperity for our people. I sincerely believe that the most effective way to banish poverty is to generate growth which in turn will create new opportunities for gainful employment. Hence, economic growth is of primary importance for us.

Indian prime ministers are generally ponderous characters, used to lecturing. In fact, if his presence lifted anyone’s spirits, a prime minister would consider himself a failure. So it is refreshing to see a prime minister who is happy about his nation, his government and his performance and who tries to cheer up his people.

This cheerfulness has been apparent for some time; it has been all the more conspicuous because the prime minister has always been a serious and conscientious person. One would not have sought him out for a night out. It is not that he does not have a sense of humour. But somehow it happened that he spent such a large part of his life doing Good things like serving his country; in fact, he has done little else. So he got typed as a rather monotonous patriot — a worthy, not to put too fine a point on it.

That is why I think those 12,469,207 Delhiites did not turn up to listen to him: they have not yet woken up to his transformation, and they expected the same old boring drone they got from Gujral, Gowda and Vajpayee in recent years. His makeover has come too suddenly upon them; even those who are close have not quite taken it in.

What caused this lifting of the spirit' I think the economist in him is dancing. His acolytes have been telling him that the reforms he so heroically spearheaded in the early Nineties have worked wonders — that India’s glowing economic performance is due to it. India’s time has come, and the prime minister does not have to do anything; he can just coast along and enjoy it.

But if times are good for all of us, why does not everyone feel as lighthearted as the prime minister' It is difficult to give an answer; perhaps the prime minister himself does not know it. But I think it is due to the end of ambition. There is nothing that he aspires to; or rather, everything he would aspire to is more or less achievable. What is the worst that can happen' That the commies would pull down his government' He would simply go back to being an opposition member of parliament. He would sit in the verandah of his Lutyens bungalow and play with his grandchildren.

That does not mean that greater honours may not come to him. He may become president. Or he may mediate between the Arabs and the Israelis. Or he may become a judge in the Universal Saint contest. The possibilities are limitless. But none of them is the object of his desire.

Should this worry us' It should worry Sonia Gandhi. For while Manmohan Singh is at the peak of the career he wants, Sonia is still in her fifties. While he has to take care of his plants at most, she has to take care of the Congress. And without the Congress, Rahul would not have much of a future.

Maybe it should worry the people of India. For a contented prime minister is perhaps not the one to try very hard for them. He may not make things better enough; he may not guard against mishaps.

But for me, who thinks our governments do only harm, it is just fine. Far be it from me to lament if the prime minister is happy. Even he deserves it. If he takes to singing in the bathroom, I would pay to listen to him.

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