Manmohan Singh’s Greek tragedy..

TN Ninan writes on the tragedy facing former Indian PM:

What is happening now to Manmohan Singh is the playing out of a Greek tragedy, which the Collins dictionary describes as “a play in which the protagonist, usually a man of importance and outstanding personal qualities, falls to disaster through the combination of a personal failing and circumstances with which he cannot deal”. In Dr Singh’s case, someone with a spotless reputation and a unique record of public service accepted one compromise after another in the interest of either a larger objective (keeping a coalition government going) or a smaller one (wanting to be Prime Minister). The first would be “circumstances”, the second “personal failing”.

If he did not insist on coal auctions because Mr Soren would have none of it, or asked the telecom regulator to ignore everything and follow Dayanidhi Maran’s diktat (as Pradip Baijal has just alleged in his book, which Manmohan Singh says he does not recall), or permitted Mr Raja to have his way on spectrum pricing, Dr Singh was either (like Shiva) drinking the poison so that India could have a functioning government, or being Macbeth and allowing personal ambition to rule his actions. The public’s sympathy will or will not be with him, depending on whether it thinks he was drinking poison or merely fulfilling ambition. But can anyone really know which it was, or whether it was both — as it usually was in Greek tragedy? Either way, does motive matter when it comes to the law?


The sheer decline of Manmohan Singh aura is too much to handle. From someone who was hailed as “the 1991 reformer” to perhaps being “the prime minister under whom corruption soared” is too much to imagine. When MMS became PM for the second time in 2009 it was being hailed as India’s golden era. In UPA-I, it had many detractors in the reform process which were absent in UPA-II. We were all looking at all kinds of stories which are doing the rounds now. Economic growth had rebounded post the 2008 crisis and things looked really rosy. And how the events/destiny conspired to make it perhaps the worst era (given the hype) in Indian political and economic history.

I don’t know but one gets philosophical seeing all these personal tragedies. It is a classic thing one reads in Indian philosophical accounts. People who grow too big are eventually brought to the ground to tell them at the end they are mere humans. Most political leaders which have played a defining role have also had a major frailty which has haunted them for  rest of their lives. Whether we look at Nehru, Gandhi (both Mahatma and the other Gandhis) and even other leaders in other countries, this has been the common story. Even in sports (Sachin never succeeding as a captain, Dravid/Ganguly never winning the World cup, Messi could suffer a similar fate as well, Gavaskar never really getting hang of ODIs, and so on). Even in economics with today’s hailed reformer as tomorrow’s villain is a common story (ask Greenspan, Clinton, Summers, Thatcher and now Dr. Singh). Plenty of corporate cases also on similar lines. And why just these modern times.  We have plenty of stories of our earlier kings who despite being Gods were humbled and embarrassed.

This is one reason why atleast in India we were always told to remain humble (which is not the case anymore I am told) and not think too much of our achievements. One should realise that lots of things happen not because of the individual but many actors/factors which conspired/helped in making things happen. Most feel it is entirely their creation and try and enjoy all the glory and spotlight. These are also the individuals which get the maximum turnaround of fortune. Those who don’t create much noise are spared to an extent.

Currently, Indian polity is into a very similar position as well. Lots of accolades are flowing all over the world over Indian economy and how certain individuals have shaped things (IMF latest in the line). It is a matter of time before things take their own devious turn. We are already getting early signs of megalomaniasm building.

More than Greek tragedy, it is the classic Indian tragedy which has hit former Indian PM. The external forces are ensuring that he remains a human after all. People think twice now before calling him as the 1991 reformer..

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