This morning, The Independent's website carried this headline - "Manmohan Singh: Saviour or Sonia's Poodle?" A few hours later, the headline had been amended to "Manmohan Singh: Saviour or Sonia's Puppet?" A few minutes late, it was back to "Poodle." (Read the article) And then, by 12.10 pm, it had taken refuge in Time magazine's headline last week to settle on "Mamnohan Singh: Saviour or the 'Under-Achiever'?"
The article offers few observations that go beyond what Time magazine made last week.
The Independent says "Observers say one of Mr Singh's problems is that he has no genuine political power. Rather, he owes his position to Sonia Gandhi... this has meant he has sometimes been unable to even control his Cabinet" and "From within his ruling Congress Party there are repeated, if oblique, demands for him to step aside ahead in favour of his presumed successor, Rahul Gandhi."
The Independent says that as far as India's liberalization goes, "In something of an air-brushing of history, Mr Singh received the lion's share of the credit, while the role of the prime minister of the day, PV Narasimha Rao, was omitted." The reporter, Andrew Buncombe, goes on to say that the PM is a "man whose reputation is at risk of being permanently damaged."
The piece acknowledges that "While he may unfairly have become the target for criticism of an entire administration, it is he who needs to do something if he wants to secure a favourable place in history."
The Prime Minister's Congress party has begun its week defending the PM against President Obama's criticism that the investment climate in India is deteriorating. Corporate Affairs Minister Veerappa Moily said that the US leader appears to be misinformed. "Certain international lobbies like Vodafone are spreading this kind of a story and Obama was not properly informed about the things that are happening, particularly when India's economic fundamentals are strong," he said.
In April, ratings agency Standard and Poor's also said that the PM appeared to have little hold over his Cabinet.
For the Congress, facing general elections in two years at the very outside, the growing wave of PM-bashing in the international media is a PR nightmare. Last week, Law Minister Salman Khurshid ran into trouble when he said that the party is waiting for Rahul Gandhi to accept more responsibility. "Until now, we have only seen cameos of his thoughts and ideas...but he has not weaved all of this into a grand announcement. This is a period of waiting," he said in a newspaper interview. But a day later, he said his remarks had been taken out of context and that from now on, he would ensure that discussions about the Congress' leadership would be confined to the party.