Person of the Week: Manmohan Singh


Person of the Week: Manmohan Singh

Illustration: Mandar Mhaskar/ Arré

Ever since “demonetisation” became the cool new thing in town, social media has been like a party where all guests eat with their mouths open. In some quarters the jokes were as lit as John Oliver on election night, in others the conversations got as dark as Shiny Ahuja’s past. As is social media’s lot, some people took the discourse to idiotic heights, comparing standing in line for the Coldplay concert to standing at an ATM to withdraw your own money. In some cases, where the argument got especially uninformed, the result was two grown men tweeting “PM rox!!!” and “PM is a sux” at each other for hours with no consensus in sight.

Which brings me to the point: Everyone has an opinion on demonetisation, and most of them are not very good. What everyone needed in this situation was a person of repute to walk in, take charge, and tell us exactly what this demonetisation business actually meant for the economy rather than the “stand in line and black money vanishes” refrain that bhakts have been on about. Since the new RBI Governer Urjit Patel has been playing hard to get all week, this insight came from a man known to be so quiet that he could be standing in a corner of your bedroom for hours before you noticed him.

And that is why our Person of the Week is former Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. Train your vocal chords and brush up on some conversation topics, because you’re probably going to be the only person talking at the party.
When Manmohan Singh spoke in Rajya Sabha last week, most people were taken aback because they thought Pinocchio was just a fable, and were surprised to see a former puppet actually talk. Dr Singh’s speech made us feel, for a moment, like a country whose parliament actually has an opposition.

The speech came out of nowhere. It was as if Charlie Chaplin had suddenly begun making farting sounds with his mouth during one of his silent movies.

In what is in the running to be the world’s most polite roast, the former Prime Minister ripped into the government’s demonetisation policy. His mic drop analysis – the scheme is akin to “organised loot, legalised plunder” – was widely quoted in the media, and got the kind of applause that is usually reserved for the guy who cuts ahead in traffic. It’s weird that this analysis would come from a man whose party has been accused of pretty much the exact thing for the last 60 years, but anyway, that has been discussed widely already.

On Thursday, the former PM said his piece without resorting to name-calling or unnecessary rhetoric. He displayed a level of cool-headedness and objectivity that has been lacking in all opposition speeches so far. He admitted that he agreed with PM Modi’s objectives to eradicate black money (unlike anti-corruption enthusiast/Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal), but questioned instead the scheme’s implementation. He refused to take a stand on the result of demonetisation, admitting he had no idea what the final outcome would be. He was also careful not to flat-out criticise demonetisation so that it wouldn’t seem as though he was defending black money hoarders.

The speech came out of nowhere. It was as if Charlie Chaplin had suddenly begun making farting sounds with his mouth during one of his silent movies. Maybe Manmohan Singh took his “silence is gold” life policy and turned it on its head because hoarding gold is now a sign that you once had a bundle of black money lying around in your house.

Either way, the former PM’s speech had its impact. People will at least now remember that Dr Manmohan Singh was a real person and not a hologram that doubled up as our Prime Minister not too long ago. He took a stand that not many Congressmen have been capable of expressing coherently so far, and put it in the most polite and objective way as possible. It seems as though Dr Singh has finally found his place in today’s politics – as the opposition we duly deserve.