New Delhi: Manmohan Singh’s condemnation of Pakistan army war crimes in the Mendhar sector of Jammu and Kashmir won’t end its barbarism. The statement came seven days too late after the admonitory prodding of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and caustic comments from the media. This tardiness in reacting to a national tragedy which has inflamed public opinion advertizes once again that whereas Manmohan Singh is willing and eager to be prime minister with all those bells and whistles, he is downright reluctant to be a leader, a decision-maker, a proactive head of government. In addition to Manmohan Singh’s soft approach to Pakistan’s state policy of terrorism, his reluctant leadership emboldens India’s militant neighbour on the west, which has no disincentive to call off its low-intensity war against this country. Manmohan Singh is not the first Indian prime minister to exhibit an absence of political will in the spheres of foreign policy and power projection, but he is certainly the worst. Such Indian prime ministers who have shown political will have done so as “outsiders” to the politics of the centre or been situated in circumstances that temporarily made them “outsiders”. Going by that logic and disposition, the only worthwhile present “outsider” to the politics of the centre who can fast-track India’s political, economic and military rise is Narendra Modi, and between themselves, Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi are churning up a heady wave in favour of the Gujarat chief minister. He looks ever more unstoppable.

For all Jawaharlal Nehru’s military disasters, losing the territory called “Occupied Kashmir” to Pakistan in 1948 and territory in the north and a whole war to China in 1962, he was brilliant in conceiving non-alignment, which kept India more or less insulated during the Cold War, forced it into self-reliance, and prepared it for a post-Cold War world in ways Cold War-bloc states such as Pakistan weren’t. If India is a stable and growing democracy and Pakistan a failed state which exists solely for the pleasure of its jihadi army, credit Nehru and non-alignment. Nehru was an “outsider” to the politics of the centre in the sense there was no centre and naturally no politics such as now located in it before he became prime minister. As prime minister, he had to take the ship of state into unchartered waters, without maps, much like the first explorers of the great oceans, and out of it evolved non-alignment, and it has abided with India’s interests longer than anyone thought possible. India’s rise owes in large part to Nehru’s vision, and an independent foreign policy course, that is neither over-friendly with the United States, the sole superpower, nor fearful of China, the great power of Asia, remains the best for the country.

After Nehru, so was Indira Gandhi an “outsider” to the politics of the centre, in her time of greatness in the early 1970s, when she fought back the “Syndicate”, gained control of the Congress, won an election on her own steam, not being her father’s daughter, and convulsed world politics with the speed of East Pakistan’s forcible separation to become independent Bangladesh. India was poor then, carrying the stigma of a lost war, and when the Bangladesh conflict was prosecuted on a limited inventory of weapons and spares, the United States, China and Pakistan were Cold War allies against Soviet Russia, which she cleverly and perspicaciously engaged to fend off Western intervention, and latter events vindicated her. Subsequently, she took decisions to make India a nuclear and regional power, but in her second coming post-Emergency, she was no longer an “outsider”, and therefore unwilling, for one, to confront Pakistan’s nuclear challenge with an Israeli-style military strike on its weapons’ facilities.

In their own ways, Lal Bahadur Shashtri, P.V.Narasimha Rao and A.B.Vajpayee were “outsiders” to the politics of the centre, and not coincidentally, contributed enormously to the securing of the country. Shashtri took over when India was at its weakest militarily, but among the prime minister, Y.B.Chavan and the army chief, General J.N.Chaudhury, they ensured an upper hand (if not outright victory) for the country in the 1965 war with Pakistan, a great morale booster for the nation and the forces after the 1962 debacle. The opening of a second front against Pakistan revealed the extraordinary political will of Shashtri. Similarly, Narasimha Rao inherited a weak state at the end of the Cold War and India’s enemies hoped and conspired for it to meet the fate of the collapsed Soviet Union, but he stood in the way. If Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir remain with the country, thank Narasimha Rao, who also laid the foundation for the second nuclear test, which his friend and fellow “outsider”, Vajpayee, brought to fruition under the noses of the Americans. As everyone knows, Vajpayee was an “outsider” both in his own party, the BJP, and in a central politics dominated by the Nehru-Gandhis. In the end, however, his own angularities kicked in, seeking, among other things, peace with Pakistan at any cost, a leftover romanticism from his days as the first Janata government’s foreign minister in the late 1970s.

Manmohan Singh has never been an outsider, a serving economic bureaucrat in nearly every government since the early 1970s, and a loyalist of the Nehru-Gandhi family, which clinched the prime-ministership for him, against a better candidate like Pranab Mukherjee. He is conceivably the only titular prime minister of India, where the real power resides in Sonia Gandhi, who as a person of foreign origin is disconnected from the country. Worse, Manmohan Singh is from the Rajya Sabha, which keeps him away from the ground and the people. A leader sets public opinion and empowered by it leads it. Manmohan Singh is the only Indian prime minister who follows public opinion after being shamed to do so. People face away when he comes on television. The cyber-world is full of 10 Janpath jokes scorning the PM. He provokes disgust. No one takes him seriously. His belated denunciation of the Mendhar savagery is unlikely to move Pakistan, which won’t be the case if Narendra Modi succeeds in his position. A rank outsider to the politics of the centre, his transformational vision will put Pakistan in place and make India a worthy competitor of Deng Xiaoping’s China.