The mention of political savvy is bound to raise eyebrows, especially in sections of his own party.
Whether he speaks at a governors' conference, at a conclave of corporate leaders, at a Knowledge Commission session, at an energy security day function or holds forth on world forums on strategic, trade and other portentous issues, Dr Singh remains steadfast in his commitment to national priorities. And so, one can argue, have his predecessors in office. The difference, however, is that Dr Singh's ideas about these priorities bear the cachet of a pragmatic and lucid assessment of our Republic's strengths and vulnerabilities.
Time and again he harps on India's truly breathtaking attachment to democracy even as he discusses the infirmities of the democratic system. He celebrates India's cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity while upholding at the same time the idea of India enshrined in its Constitution: secularism, rule of law, equality of all citizens. Indeed, he misses no opportunity to express immense pride in the country's rich cultural heritage though he also takes care to emphasise only those elements in it which reinforce the goals and values of the Republic.
In this very vein, Dr Singh reiterates again and again the importance of growth processes, the need to sustain and enhance the spirit of entrepreneurship at all levels of society and the obligation to free the economy from bureaucratic shackles. Yet, in each such intervention he calls for more inclusiveness in the growth processes to ensure that marginalised groups and weaker sections of society are beneficiaries.
Much the same mix of farsightedness and pragmatism is evident in his speeches on foreign policy and security matters. They reveal a determination to mend fences with neighbours and to build bridges with countries or groups of countries bearing in mind India's imperative requirements for a stable external environment, a military machine in fine fettle, investments for its infrastructure, high-end technology to give our economy a cutting edge and so forth. At the same time, however, he is quick to point out that constraints on our growth are internal in nature. In the plainest of words, the instrumentalities needed to implement even the best thought-out policies are often found wanting.
If all of the above is not politics, what would you call it? Dr Singh's problem, if that's the word, is his refusal to define politics solely in terms of rabble-rousing populism aimed at communal, casteist, sectional or parochial votebanks. Will he be able to stem the populist tide without eroding his authority? He has been compelled to reverse so many of his brave decisions for electoral ends—the drop in the price of petrol is the latest case in point—that the question must remain hanging in the balance, especially during the second half of his tenure in office.
The precipitate growth of terrorism, the squabbling between states over sharing of water, minerals, energy sources and electricity, the neglect of the countryside, unemployment, rising anger among minorities and Dalits, separatism in Kashmir and in the Northeast, unresolved issues with Pakistan, China and Bangladesh, the conditions that would eventually be attached to the Indo-US nuclear deal: on all these fronts, the PM's political and administrative mettle will be put to severe test. Anyone who wishes India, and the people of India, well can only hope that he meets with the success he merits in fulsome measure.
This otherwise handsome volume suffers on one count. The Publications Division, which has produced it, has been lackadaisical in its editing. Every now and again you come across bloomers, including one on the jacket cover where the word 'opportunities' is misspelt.
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