Poor Dr Singh, he’s a beleaguered man these days. Will he be remembered as the one who allowed allies to run all over him and the government, the one who remained mum on the policy gaffes, the scams and most of the crises facing the country? Well, think what you will but Dr Manmohan Singh isn’t your run-of-the-mill PM. As political cartoonist Sudhir Tailang puts it: “He wasn’t a challenge to anyone...except the cartoonist!” The dry, unsmiling robot-like character wasn’t really designed for the drawing board, though the turban became the nuclear orbit in many toons, while the small face, bushy eyebrows, scraggy beard and impeccable white kurta-pyjama, which “gave him the aura of an aged, starved but intelligent lion”, were highlighted by many cartoonists in prominent newspapers and magazines. “His big forehead came to my rescue. I enlarged it even more than from his FM days. His headgear hanging from the occipital part of his head—about to fall, but never quite! I always drew him as a tiny figure, matching his political stature. That’s how I invented him,” says Tailang.
Cartoonists say it’s been quite the challenge to bring a ‘low-profile’ leader on to the centrestage of Indian politics. “When you have a clean image frontrunner, academically impeccable, without the foot-in-the-mouth symptoms and extreme reactions, cartooning takes a beating. And this is where Sonia destroyed PM lampooning. Scams and other goof-ups then were a relief for us...to show him up as a dumb bystander scratching his beard,” says Ajit Ninan, chief graphic consultant, Times of India group.