星期六, 1月 23, 2021
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Stalled nuclear deal weakens Indian PM

Resignation rumors surface, are denied, and surface again. His allies turn against him and editorials question his leadership.


Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is taking a political beating after a stalled nuclear deal, in what many Indians see as the decline and steady fall of a weak leader betrayed by his allies, manipulated by enemies and revealed as increasingly ineffective.


So low are his fortunes that resignation rumors have abounded. The Times of India on Tuesday splashed its front page with "Quitting buzz grips the capital" despite strong official denials that Singh would quit.


"It's a measure of the current political situation, and an assumed fragility of the government, that the speculation refused to die down," the newspaper wrote.


Singh was always seen as a prime ministerial figurehead since he was named by Sonia Gandhi, the Congress party head widely seen, as the power behind the throne, after the last general election in 2004.


But the decision to backtrack on the deal with the United States after his communist allies in parliament threatened to withdraw their support eroded his image further and could make the government appear rudderless for the remainder of its term.


Singh staked his reputation on the deal after shaking hands with President George W. Bush. The accord would allow India to import US nuclear fuel and reactors despite having tested nuclear weapons but not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.


"It all underlines the fact that the poor chap has been a weak leader from the very beginning," said Yashwant Deshmukh, director of the C-Voter polling firm.


"It's always Sonia calling the shots."


For some commentators, Singh is now damned if he resigns and damned if he doesn't.


"It is something of a diminution of Dr Singh's reputation that he comes across as a survivor rather than a leader," wrote Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research, in The Indian Express.


Renowned for his honesty, the soft-spoken and gray-bearded economist was portrayed as a reluctant prime minister after Gandhi, worried about attacks over her Italian birth, renounced her claim to the job.


But critics say his career, including as UN civil servant and government bureaucrat, underline a life where career jobs have carried more weight than pursuing strong political ideals.


"The most damning criticism is captured in that rather more sober phrase: he is a 'survivor'," wrote Mehta.


"'Survivor' does not refer to someone who has overcome all odds. 'Survivor' refers rather to someone who is ready to make compromises to continue in power."


On Monday, local media reported Singh felt let down by his own allies. The remarks, leaked to some media outlets, appeared to be an effort to square the blame on some members of the ruling coalition rather than the prime minister.


Singh said the pause in the deal would hit India's image abroad and make it more difficult for India to seal international commitments, the Press Trust of India reported.


Analysts see Singh now facing an even weaker role ahead of what looks like a year of populist policies to prepare for elections in 2008 or 2009.


A wave of populism to win votes could herald a sad end to a leader who won his spurs as a reformist finance minister in the 1990s, taking India into the competitive world economy.


Citigroup led a research report this week not with talk of politics but with how government was increasingly intervening in the markets, by discouraging exports of onions, to rein in rising prices of the staple food and possible voter discontent.


"It's embarrassing for anyone who makes a U-turn, and especially for someone at the top like Singh," said Deshmukh.


 

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