New Delhi: When a prime minister says he has the numbers in Parliament, it means he is heading a government but not necessarily leading the country. Manmohan Singh belongs to this lesser category.

Earlier to the matter of the FDI multi-brand retail vote in Parliament, Manmohan Singh has spoken similarly, the numbers on those occasions having been obtained, as everyone knows, through coercion, blackmail or bribery. Manmohan Singh is not about to change his ways. In eight years of maladministration, he has grown a thick hide. But for the record, Manmohan Singh has shamed his august office unprecedentedly, and more than once.

Manmohan Singh compares himself with Jawaharlal Nehru (to the anger of the Nehru-Gandhis) but never with Indira Gandhi, who was his first true boss. Indira Gandhi was an amazing prime minister, but no one will deny that she was also not authoritarian. The authoritarian side of Indira Gandhi does not sit well with democratic leadership, which is why few Indian prime ministers see her as a role model.

Before Manmohan Singh, A.B.Vajpayee visualized himself in the image of Nehru, and never hid his admiration for India’s first prime minister. Nehru could be imperious but he was not by nature authoritarian like his daughter, even given his dismissal of the first elected Communist government in Kerala, and he wouldn’t make a statement like, “We have the numbers.” He was too tall to stoop to such levels. Theoretically speaking, if such a statement had to be made, the trash in the party would be assigned the job, though it is arguable if Nehru would tolerate trash. But Manmohan Singh makes no such distinction, which is sad in a man of good education.

The Congress party today has more quality trash than ever before. Rajiv Gandhi had his “shouting brigade”, but you knew where they came from, from the backstreets of Uttar Pradesh small towns. Today’s Congress trash is television friendly and clever, commencing from Manish Tewari, winding its way among fixers, and going all the way up to Kapil Sibal. Any one of them could have made the execrable observation, “We have the numbers.” In their company, of course, the prime minister lowers himself. But when he himself chooses to make demeaning statements, it becomes hopeless.

It is no-gainsaid that parliamentary politics is about numbers. All politics starts with numbers. But you can stay vulgarly close to that reality, or you can put yourself above it. Putting yourself above it leads to other things. You no longer look at politics through the narrow prism of party politics. You think nationally, and you act nationally. Once elections are over, and you get down to the business of governance, your vision (should you have one) embraces the entire country, not just states ruled by your own party. Unfortunately, Manmohan Singh has not been able to elevate himself above partisan politics.

When a PM calls an all-party meeting, it is understood that there will be give-and-take, and being in power, the government has to walk the extra mile to bring around the opposition. This is standard form in government-opposition negotiations. When a government has a majority, it is not obliged to make concessions, but if it does, it reveals magnanimity. Many times A.B.Vajpayee has shown magnanimity. When has prime minister Manmohan Singh done the same?

This has perhaps to do with assimilating the culture of Indian politics, to which Manmohan Singh, as a political outsider, has been negligibly exposed. For example, Manmohan Singh has been doing more dinner diplomacy in the past eight months than in eight years of his government. But when has he been successful? The problem does lie in the fact that real power does not reside in him. But should it lead to such a fall?

Manmohan Singh has cheapened the office of the prime minister beyond measure.