S P E C I A L    E D I T O R I A L

The nation is in safe hands
by H.K. Dua

Despite all its shortcomings, the nation has the wisdom and resilience to throw up a Prime Minister who can be trusted to provide the kind of leadership it needs at this time.

And as such, the ascendancy of Dr Manmohan Singh to the august office is an event of tremendous significance.

After some dilly-dallying the country has found the man who can understand the pain of the poor, the loneliest and the lost and at the same time pursue the vision to build a strong economy meant for the twentyfirst century India.

Whatever the reasons – the call of her inner voice or sheer pragmatism – for Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s developing second thoughts on taking over as Prime Minister, none in the Congress or in the political parties supporting it or the people outside can fault her for passing on the baton to Dr Manmohan Singh.

Mrs Sonia Gandhi’s self-abnegation of the Prime Ministership of India has deprived the BJP of an opportunity to arouse passions over her Italian origin. It has also spared the nation of a bitter polarisation that would have developed over the issue consuming much of its time and energy.

Dr Manmohan Singh arouses no such passions. Respected for launching economic reforms in the nineties and enjoying formidable reputation for integrity and character, he can provide a feeling that the nation is in safe hands.

The news that the next Prime Minister will be Dr Manmohan Singh has already reassured the market that wobbled during the few days of electoral uncertainty. At the same time, the Congress party’s allies, many of them of Leftist persuasion, are not worried about his being at the helm despite the fact that he is an acknowledged economic reformer.

Prime Ministership of a nation of a billion people is one of the most demanding jobs in the world. And India’s being a plural society and polity, it requires a consensual approach which Dr Manmohan Singh by disposition is inclined to follow. He has the capacity to take others among the Congress party’s allies and Chief Ministers of different parties along in running the affairs of a complex nation.

While Dr Manmohan Singh’s being at South Block is reassuring, he faces tremendous challenges.

Besides, stabilising the economy and sending positive signals to the world outside to attract greater foreign investment, he is to ensure that the economic reforms which he would like to pursue will be fine-tuned so that the common man also gets his due. He will in effect have to get across the message to the people that his policies can place the economy on a fast growth and at the same time the interests of the people will not be neglected during his tenure.

He cannot afford to be wantonly populist, but he will have to sell his reforms to his Leftist allies with some skill. He might pleasantly find that the Leftists may not deny him cooperation provided he takes care of their essential concerns. Ideally, they would not like to rock his boat and give an advantage to the BJP, but it is better to persuade them to join his government than let them remain outside.

While the new Prime Minister should be given a few days to draw his priorities, he has to urgently send across the message to Pakistan that the new government will go ahead with the dialogue to usher in durable peace in the subcontinent.

The reports from Pakistan speak of its fears that while the new government would like to walk on the peace track, it might face opposition from the BJP which is now to sit in the opposition.

The policy of seeking improvement of relations with China would also demand continuity and, circumstances permitting, an enthusiastic pursuit by the Manmohan Singh government.

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