From left Bhishma Agnihotri, former Ambassador at Large for the Indian diaspora , Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India’s Parliament, and a Congress Party spokesman, and Abhishek Mishra, Minister of State for Science Technology for the Government of Uttar Pradesh, and the BBC Radio journalist who was not identified, Photo:- Jay Mandal/On Assignment
The omnipresent news photographer and dear friend Jay Mandal was in Boston to attend a conference on India at Harvard Kennedy School the other day. One of the panel discussions during the conference was on the theme "Global Implications of India’s 2014 Elections". As Jay reports the discussion was moderated by a BBC Radio journalist who asked the three panelists what they might do if they were India’s prime minister. The panelists were Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India’s Parliament, and a Congress Party spokesman, Bhishma Agnihotri, a former Ambassador at Large for the Indian diaspora appointed by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Abhishek Mishra, Minister of State for Science Technology for the Government of Uttar Pradesh.
It was one of those silly but fun questions that gets asked at such conferences. It does not necessarily require a very thoughtful answer. It also does not necessarily require a partisan response. It can be dealt with a polite smirk or vague generalities because those who get asked such questions are mostly the kind of people who have almost no prospect of becoming prime minister other than by a bizarre quirk of fate. My point is it means nothing. And yet men like Agnihotri feel compelled to use such opportunity to take a cheap and unbecoming political shot.
As Jay reports, Agnihotri said India does not have a prime minister but “a prime servant” who serves “only a lady” and not the nation. First of all, thank you but that was not you were asked. You were asked what if you were the prime minister. Second of all, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India is not a “prime servant” in the manner of “servant” that Agnihotri implies to a “lady” who is the Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi. Third of all, and perhaps the most important, the assertion is nonsensical and factually inaccurate.
As the readers of this blog would know I hold no brief for any party but an honest assessment of Dr. Singh’s career would reveal at the very least that he has India’s general welfare at heart. He has spent decades in public service doing his best to ensure that the country rises to its potential. One may have a problem with Dr. Singh at several levels, including his policy choices and politics, but to cast him as a servant to one woman betrays a petty mindset. It is also unbecoming of someone who was officially appointed “Ambassador at Large” by another prime minister who himself kept the public discourse at a very high level throughout his long career and would never use such terms about Dr. Singh or any opponent.
Such cheap applause lines really contribute nothing to the discourse other than causing some sly amusement and sniggering. If the purpose was to gratuitously insult Dr. Singh I doubt if it was served. Instead, Agnihotri probably ended up embarrassing himself.