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Dr. Manmohan Singh collapsed into the sofa-chair in his living room. He had had a long day – the longest in his tenure as Prime Minister, it seemed. Wearily, he glanced at the large grandfather clock across the room. It was 3 AM. He was exhausted.
He sighed heavily.
Ever since the CAG report was tabled in the parliament, he hadn’t known a moment of peace. The opposition was all over him, hypocrites that they were. Several Congressmen pounced upon this opportunity to reaffirm their loyalty to Rahul by calling for his head. Madam, herself, seemed no longer confident about his abilities, and more importantly, his integrity.
“How did things come to this?” he thought. “Hey Rabba, what do I do now?”
He sunk lower in his chair, fighting to keep his tired eyes open and his exhausted mind awake. He must work harder. He must think further. Surely there’s a way out of this.
“Must… think…,” he mumbled, as his eyelids rapidly lost its battle with gravity and shut the world out of his vision. Darkness settled in, promising to envelop him in its welcoming arms and erase his anxiety.
All of a sudden, horrifying images swirled in front of his eyes – Raja laughing like a maniac from behind bars, Chidambaram smirking as he uttered a line from Hamlet, Sushma Swaraj screaming hysterically… and then a terrifying visual of himself in the parliament, blanketed in coal tar from head to toe, trying to read out a speech, but the words simply wouldn’t come out….
His eyes flew open, and he leapt from his chair.
“No,” he said. “I will not let this happen to me!”
“I will take control.”
And thus began the dramatic transformation of the 13th Prime Minister of India.
Dr. Singh went to his study, switched on his laptop, and stared at the screen for an entire hour. And then word by word, he began to type out the speech for the Congress General Body Meeting the following day…
“My beloved party workers,” he gazed at the assembled leaders and workers, pausing for the volume of chatter to come down. “I know that the last few years have been very tough. We’ve been hit by scams. The opposition’s onslaught has been relentless. The nuisance of the so called civil society crusaders has been frustrating.”
The crowd’s chatter dimmed to a murmur. Dr. Singh continued. “We haven’t done well in the recent round of assembly elections. We barely formed the government in Uttrakhand. We lost in Goa and Punjab. We lost badly in Uttar Pradesh.”
The crowd was now completely silent. Every pair of eyes in the hall was on the speaker. Dr. Singh steeled himself, peered hard into the eyes of his audience, and recited those famous lines from The Dark Knight.
“But the night is the darkest just before the dawn. And I promise you, the dawn is coming.”
For a few seconds, the Congressmen stared back, mesmerized by Dr. Singh’s words, and wondered who was this hero that had taken place of the ineffectual man they once knew only as a regent. And then, the crowd rose in unison, and roared and roared in applause, and for a moment it seemed like a new dawn had indeed graced upon the beleaguered party.
The following month, Dr. Singh worked like a man possessed. By day, he worked on policy and governance issues, stripping his government of its cumbersome bureaucratic hurdles and ironing out loopholes that emboldened the corrupt. By night, he took acting classes in the Roshan Taneja School of Acting to improve his body language and communication skills.
By the 2nd week, through a combination of fiery speeches in Parliament and diplomatic backroom discussions outside of it, Dr. Singh convinced enough MPs to bring about FDI in retail.
Over the next few months, Dr. Singh launched a comprehensive Indo-Bangladesh border fencing project to shut out illegal immigrants, gave the green signal to expedite the UID project, and gave a carte-blanche to CBI to question anyone and everyone connected to the 2G case. Animal spirits, GDP growth, and other abstruse economic concepts had now entered popular discourse, thanks to Dr. Singh’s efforts.
There was opposition. There were challenges. But Dr. Singh dusted them off like he would flick off a speck of dirt on his jet black suit.
When Sushma Swaraj harangued on inflation yet again in the Lok Sabha, Dr. Singh put on his most winning smile, and said, “Hey senorita, bade bade shehron mein, choti choti baatein hoti rehti hai,” leaving Sushma and her vociferous colleagues dumbfounded.
When Anna started yet another fast in Ramlila Maidan to demand the introduction of the Janlokpal bill, Dr. Singh walked to the grounds, shook hands with Anna, and promised him that he’ll get a strong anti-corruption law passed. The very next day, Dr. Singh addressed the Parliament in trademark Steve Jobs attire – a black turtle neck T-shirt, faded Levis jeans and sneakers and dazzled the MPs by showcasing key features of the Janlokpal bill on a giant screen accompanied with sizzling imagery of the key clauses of the anti-corruption law.
“And one more thing,” the PM added in concluding remarks. “The PM’s office will definitely be under the ambit of the Lokpal,” he said and calmly walked off the stage. A few minutes of pin drop silence ensued as a dazed audience began to recover from the PM’s masterful performance, and then a torrent of applause flooded the presentation room in Yojana Bhavan, as history was written.
In mid-November, Dr. Singh decided to take on the BJP’s strongest leader in his own den – the Gujarat Assembly elections. Building upon the core premise that lower class and middle class households in Gujarat no longer had access to affordable housing, Dr. Singh launched a powerful campaign.
There wasn’t a day when he hadn’t addressed a rally. There wasn’t a day when he hadn’t gone on door to door visits. His first rally saw the participation of a few thousands. His final rally, just before the polling day, saw over three lakh people tripping over each other just to get a glimpse of the charismatic leader.
Narendra Modi did not know what hit him. From 117 seats in the 2007 assembly elections, Modi’s BJP plummeted to a meagre 75 seats. He barely held on to his own seat in Maninagar, winning by a paltry 4030 votes.
With 92 seats, Congress obtained absolute majority, and went on to form the first Congress-led government in 15 years.
It seemed nothing could go wrong for the Congress anymore. In Dr. Singh Congress had found its messiah. In Dr. Singh, the workers had found their voice. No longer did they have to await the 2014 general elections with trepidation. They were now restless with anticipation, itching for a fight, much like the Spartan warriors did before a war.
That’s when, the chairperson of the Congress party, Smt. Sonia Gandhi, called for Dr. Singh to meet her at 10 Janpath.
“Manmohanji, I have some bad news for you,” she said, peering at him over her glasses – a look that has been the undoing of so many Congressmen. But not him. Not now.
“Sure, Sonia ji. What’s the problem? I’ll take care of it,” he said confidently.
“The problem, I am afraid… is you Manmohanji,” she said, pausing to study Dr. Singh’s expression. “You are too huge a leader now, Manmohanji.”
She stood up, and began pacing the room with her hands folded behind her.
“When I first chose you to be the PM, you were just perfect. You were a noted academic, you had a clean image, you were loyal and most importantly, you had no standing of your own. But now,” she stopped abruptly and turned to face Dr. Singh. “Now you are a mass leader, and a legitimate threat to Rahul. I am afraid we cannot have you in Congress anymore.”
Dr. Singh stared back at Sonia Gandhi in disbelief. The colour drained from his gaunt face. Sweat ran down his forehead, and down his beard. He opened his mouth to speak, to protest, to tell his leader she’s making a mistake. But the words simply wouldn’t come. He stood there, opening and closing his mouth like a gagging goldfish.
Sonia walked over to him, grabbed his shoulders, and said loudly, “Are you okay, Manmohan ji?”
“This can’t be happening,” he thought, shaking uncontrollably. “This isn’t real!”
“Manmohan ji!” Sonia screamed, “Wake up!”
“What?” Manmohanji looked back at her, confused, as Sonia and the room behind her began to blur rapidly.
Dr. Singh found himself lying dazed in his sofa-chair, and standing in place of Sonia was his wife, Gursharan Kaur, peering back at him sternly.
For a second, Dr. Singh blinked back, unable to immediately comprehend the import of what just happened. And then relief flooded his face, wave after wave after wave, as a beatific smile spread across his face.
“Wake up, Mannu!” her voice shook him out of his stupor. “Come on, get up. It’s already 7 am. Breakfast is ready. You have to go to the parliament to give your defence about alleged irregularities in coal block allocations. Don’t you remember? And there are already 2 missed calls from 10, Janpath. Oh, and be careful on the way out. There are a lot of hecklers led by that Kejriwal chap near the gate.”
Dr. Singh leapt from his seat, and gave his better half a quick hug.
“What happened? Are you feeling okay?” asked a surprised Mrs. Kaur.
“Never felt better, dear,” replied Dr. Singh.