Manmohan Singh looks back on 10 years as prime minister
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Manmohan Singh looks back on 10 years as prime minister

A weak prime minister passes into history writes John Elliot for Asia Sentinel.

As he approaches the end of his 10 years as India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh hopes the “history books will be kinder” to him than the media and other critics. That was a recurrent theme at a large press conference lasting about 100 minutes that he gave in Delhi Friday. It was only his third in 10 years (and second since 2004), apart from exchanges with selected journalists on flights abroad.

He has revealed little in the past, so not much was expected this time. His opening statement attempted to record his government’s performance in a good light. Most of his answers to journalists’ questions were bland, and many were evasive. He did announce that he would not be a prime ministerial candidate in the coming general election. That was expected and it turns the focus onto a Congress Party meeting in two weeks’ time when, it is rumored, Rahul Gandhi might announce for the role.

Manmohan Singh’s headline catcher was a blunt personal attack on Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, who he said would be “disastrous for the country”. He then added that a man who had “presided over massacre of innocents on the streets of Ahmedabad” had not displayed “the kind of strength I will like to have.”

That was a reference to the Godhra riots in Gujarat in 2002, where more than 2,000 are believed to have been killed with Modi as chief minister. The remark showed that Modi will continue to come under attack for his role then, even though he has been cleared of responsibility by the courts and said last week (without actually apologizing) that he was “shaken to the core” by the violence with feelings of “grief, sadness, misery, pain, anguish, agony.”

The most telling theme of the press conference was the way the prime minister shirked responsibility for corruption scandals, notably in the telecommunications and coal industries, that have dogged his administration with him being implicated for at least condoning what has happened.

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