India Insight

Manmohan Singh: middle-class darling no more?

April 11, 2011

For nearly two decades, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the darling of the Indian middle classes, who saw the Oxford- and Cambridge-trained economist as a rare alternative to the stereotype of the uneducated, corrupt and criminal politician.

Prime Minister Manmohan SinghThat love affair had begun to fray at the edges of late, after Singh’s perceived inaction over several corruption scandals that had emerged in his second term as premier, but now, it may finally be over.

As thousands of mostly middle-class Indians across the country demonstrated in support of veteran social activist Anna Hazare’s hunger strike against corruption, the anti-government and anti-Singh mood was very much palpable.

The middle classes have a poor voting record, but their influence on public discourse is highly out of proportion to their electoral strength and a shift in their allegiance should be worrisome for both Singh and his Congress party.

Singh has lost the only popular election he has contested and arguably, his only constituency is the middle class. His greatest advantage vis-a-vis potential rivals within and outside his party is the impression there is no alternative to this honest and upright leader.

That image has largely been sustained because of its currency amongst the middle classes who have been the biggest beneficiaries of Singh’s policies to open up the economy.

His presence had helped bring to Congress several middle-class voters who had previously supported the market-friendly policies of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Singh, at the best of times distant from the public gaze, was invisible through the protests, and his statement welcoming the settlement between Hazare and the government was unimpressive.

“Manmohan singh say : he is very happy with the movement of Anna Hazare against Corruption……..{But aftr 4 days},” read a post on Twitter, typical of the several that have been unkind to the prime minister.

The present mood contrasts with that in 2008, when Singh staked his government’s survival to sign a civil nuclear deal with the United States. Television channels played “Singh is King,” a Bollywood jingle, for the prime minister when he won a key parliament vote on the deal.

As late as end-March, that phrase reappeared in the media, when Singh scored diplomatic brownie points by inviting his Pakistani counterpart to watch the cricket World Cup semi-final match between the two countries.

As Britain’s Harold Wilson is said to have quipped, a week in politics is a long time. Few expect Singh to stand for prime ministership beyond the end of his term in 2014, but the loss of support amongst the middle classes is sure to raise questions on his indispensability.

Comments
3 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

“The middle classes have a poor voting record, but their influence on public discourse is highly out of proportion to their electoral strength and a shift in their allegiance should be worrisome for both Singh and his Congress party.”

In my opinion what gave Congress such a boost in their tally is because of urban middle class India. For once, this group voted in support of the Congress in a very big way. Specially in the towns and cities of Maharashtra. So the last time they did showcase their electoral strength. It was more a vote for MM Singh, the man. Unfortunately his masterly inaction has dissipated that good will within a very short time.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive
 

If only Anna Hazare would stand for election, now there would be a *real* choice

Posted by WaterBoi | Report as abusive
 

MM Singh WAS a good economist, BUT he has BETRAYED his country by being a lame duck and puppet in hands of Soniya, the corrupt, and Rahul, the fool. PM ‘requesting’ Rahul to be next PM….hah?? PM says on floor of parliament that he don’t know of corruption in his ministries….what kind of PM is he then…it is his job to know for god sake….inflation, security, food, roads, he has failed on every front…only success is corruption front…he is PM of THE MOST CORRUPT government ever in India…I feel ashamed, because of our PM, in front of my American colleagues

Posted by 007XXX | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
  •