CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan, still ‘Mr Clean’?

Manmohan Singh‘s unique selling electoral proposition—his squeaky, clean image and credibility in spite of swimming around in the cesspool of politics—has come under question for the first time in two decades, with the Supreme Court asking the obvious question: what was the economist-prime minister doing when the scum of the 2G spectrum allocation scam was rising to the top.

“The sanctioning authority (the PM) can turn down a request for sanction but can it sit over it? … We find the alleged inaction and silence troubling,” a two-judge bench has observed.

For a finance minister who retained his image despite the JMM scandal perpetrated by his mentor P.V. Narasimha Rao, and for a prime minister who came out smelling of roses despite the cash-for-votes scandal of the nuclear trust vote and other subsidiary scams of UPA-I and UPA-II,the SC’s observation hits where it hurts most.

Nobody has so far ventured to suggest that Manmohan Singh is on the take. Yet, the imputation that he was looking the other way while A. Raja & his pals within the DMK and Congress were making hay, takes off the sheen of his image somewhat and could have serious implications for himself and his party in the weeks and months ahead.

Questions: Has the PM’s integrity suffered a body-blow? Can he recover his reputation or is the damage done? Will the Congress rise to defend Manmohan? Will it retain his if his chief attribute, his image, becomes a problem? Or will it dump him like a hot potato if the opposition goes to town about it?