One potentially inflammatory spark did fly, but a distinct reluctance to be "political" in what could be his final press conference as Prime Minister rendered Manmohan Singh's media interaction on Friday almost as insipid as its infrequent predecessors.
By opting not to follow up his “punch” in warning of “disaster” if [opposition prime ministerial candidate] Narendra Modi were to succeed him, Singh was left struggling to defend what in public perception remains indefensible – the functioning of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA-II). Some of the queries were sharp and there were rumblings as the curtain dropped, yet it remains difficult to assess what were the gains of his discarding his purdah and facing the media; maybe as he repeatedly stressed, history would be the best judge.
Whether the press conference was a signal from the Congress party that he was just running the clock down and a new leadership would be henceforth calling the shots remains one possibility. Another is that he was determined to restate his loyalty to Sonia Gandhi and fully endorse Rahul Gandhi’s credentials for the top job. For, by no stretch of the imagination, did he project the Congress as the front-runner in the electoral contest just months away. And for good measure, he rejected suggestions of a differences between him and the party leadership. His image as a dependable retainer was reinforced.
As far as the performance of UPA-II was concerned, he essentially regurgitated old excuses, such as the economic downturn being linked to global factors. He once again floated the flippant theory that most of the scandals of UPA-II occurred during UPA-I, and that a second mandate was the answer to the allegations. Would he accept that the rout of the Congress in the recent state assembly polls was a verdict on his more subsequent showing? What was once again rather sickening was his dubious bid to make distinctions between his personal conduct and the performance of his government. As Prime Minister he was required to assume responsibility for all successes or failures. His body language was apologetic, he had done his best, and he could say no more.
There would be few takers for his line that the party had never created hurdles in his path. In true sycophantic manner, almost all the programmes he highlighted bore the imprimatur of Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council.
It is difficult to make an assessment of Mr Singh’s performance without factoring-in recent election results and the prospects for the “big one” around the corner. Sadly, his “soft” showing pointed to him personally bowing out without blazing an electoral trail for his party in the months ahead.
Maybe Rahul wanted to start without any Manmohan baggage.