August 07, 2020
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A Fortress Unto Himself

Others may not see the method in his plan, but the PM knows what he’s doing

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A Fortress Unto Himself
Narendra Bisht
A Fortress Unto Himself

Why The Party’s Unhappy With The PM

  • A section within the Congress has been voicing its disquiet over the Indo-Pakistan joint statement because it feels that it will give a handle to the Opposition to attack the government.
  • Another section, which is being described as the coalition of the disgruntled, consists of those who were looking for an occasion to attack the PM, and used the BJP's ire as an opportune excuse.
  • Very few in the Congress are really upset by the substance of the statement. They are most concerned by the fact that the PM is asserting himself.
  • Some members of the old guard feel that the party should have been consulted before the joint statement was drafted.


Man Can Cook: Trust, But Verify

  • In UPA-2, the goal the prime minister has set for himself is to try and achieve a breakthrough in Indo-Pakistan relations.
  • India's policy has always been that the only way forward with Pakistan is through dialogue.
  • Manmohan Singh believes that to make any headway the government cannot remain a prisoner of old mindsets.
  • This is why he wants to be seen as being more accommodative. That is the only way he thinks progress can be made.
  • As in the second half of UPA-1, he will play a proactive role in foreign affairs.
  • The fact that external affairs minister S.M. Krishna is a lightweight helps him play a dominant role.


Pakistan’s Take

  • Still insists that a dossier was handed over to the Indian prime minister at Sharm el-Sheikh.
  • The dossier accuses India of fomenting terror activities in Balochistan.
  • Says India supports Balochistan Liberation Army leader Brahamdagh Bugti, says it has given documentary evidence of his meeting with RAW officials.
  • Alleges there is a RAW-financed camp where militants are trained and launched in Balochistan and elsewhere in Pakistan.
  • Accuses RAW of running safehouses in Afghanistan, with the help of Indian consulates there.
  • The Indian consulate in the Iranian city of Zahedan accused of financing terror in Balochistan.
  • It has pictures of non-Muslims killed in the Pak military operations in Swat Valley.
  • Claims India assisted terrorists in the attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team and the Manawan police training academy. Some Pakistanis argues these claims are bogus.


Manmohan Singh has always seen himself as the steward of historic changes, as one who has the courage to challenge the status quo. On August 17, 2006, in a Rajya Sabha debate on the Indo-US nuclear deal, Manmohan reminded the house that in his first budget speech as finance minister in 1991, he had dedicated himself to economic reforms. “I was criticised by the Right, by the Left,” he said. “Fifteen years down, who will today say that what I did then was wrong? This nation stands tall, proud, fast-growing.” In a similar vein, on August 13, 2007, he defended the N-deal in Parliament: “...we have achieved an agreement that is good for India, and good for the world.... This agreement with the United States will open new doors in capitals across the world.”

It is against this backdrop that the controversial Indo-Pakistan joint statement needs to be understood. If the N-deal was the high point of his prime ministership during UPA-1, the task that he has clearly set for himself during UPA-2 is to achieve a breakthrough in Indo-Pakistan relations. “The PM,” sources close to him told Outlook, “sees no merit in a stagnant pool. He sees greater merit in the turbulence that might result from what is being seen as a dangerous approach.”

Indeed, the PM’s new Pakistan initiative—decoupling the composite dialogue from action on terror and the curious reference to Balochistan—has seen not just the BJP hitting the streets, it has also resulted in disquiet in Congress circles. Of course, the PM’s brilliant, 45-minute-long contextualising of the joint statement on July 29 in the Lok Sabha, followed by party president Sonia Gandhi’s endorsing of his position, has gone a long way towards silencing the PM’s critics within the party. But this may just be a temporary reprieve.

For there are two parallel strands of opposition to the PM from within the party—one that comes from those Congressmen who feel that Indian foreign policy is cast in stone, and another that stems from those who are disturbed at the sight of a confident, assertive Manmohan Singh driving the national agenda. In many cases, the two coalesce. “Crudely put,” a party general secretary explains, “the Congress can be divided into the pro-US lobby and the pro-NAM lobby, those who are not shackled by the shibboleths of the past, and those who feel the status quo is the safest.”

If the party’s spokespersons, led by media committee chairman Janardan Dwivedi, appeared to project disquiet within the party through their ultra-cautious briefings, there were reports that Union defence minister A.K. Antony was unhappy with the end-user agreements relating to defence purchases with the US. Then, a Calcutta paper ran a report saying that finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was “unhappy” with the statement, adding fuel to the fire. Pranab, when asked to comment on the veracity of the report, just smiled benevolently. When this too was reported in the press, the party high command imposed a gag order on all briefings, on and off the record, till the core committee meeting was held on July 24.

Indeed, pressure from this section resulted in Sonia Gandhi’s guarded defence of the PM in her address to the parliamentary party on July 30. Her statement was clearly a balancing act—it sought to defend the PM while appeasing his critics. “The prime minister has made a firm and unequivocal statement. No one should be in any doubt on our party’s position vis-a-vis Pakistan. It remains unchanged.” Party sources say that though the PM has Sonia Gandhi’s total support, she does not in any way wish to annoy the old guard who have told her that the Indo-Pak statement has taken the sheen off the recent electoral victory and that it will adversely affect the party’s prospects in future elections. Others have told her that the PM should have consulted the party’s senior leaders before “reversing” the Congress’s position on Pakistan post-26/11.

But the PM also has his backers in the party, who dismiss such concerns. “Foreign policy and national security issues have such a large secrecy component that no prime minister is ever going to conduct a public debate on the eve of undertaking strategic moves,” senior party leader Mani Shankar Aiyar told Outlook. “Both in the Indo-US nuclear deal and in his strategic vision for Pakistan, the PM has demonstrated that he’s ahead of the party and country opinion; and that after he has made the move, he can carry the party and country with him.”

Other staunch supporters of his foreign policy line include human resource development minister Kapil Sibal and minister of state for corporate affairs Salman Khursheed. “The problem is,” says Khursheed, “we need to think out-of-the-box if we want to forge ahead, but many of us are afraid of emerging from the box. This statement creates a small window to get us back on track.”

As for the inclusion of Balochistan in the statement, Aiyar sees it as “a confession by Pakistani PM (Yousuf Raza) Gilani that his government is not in control of vast swathes of its own territory, polity and society. I believe Gilani, by saying what he did on Balochistan, has edged us closer to resolving things by discussing issues regarded by either side as outstanding.”

Unfortunately for Manmohan, any defence of his position by party members has been muted. But if history is any indication, it is unlikely that the all-round criticism will be an obstacle for the PM. For, by now, the country is familiar with the fact that behind Manmohan’s mild manner is steely resolve—he has a vision for a subcontinent at peace with itself and he will pursue it.

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