Indian prime ministers don’t walk off into the sunset. They die at work – Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi. They lose support in parliament – Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, VP Singh, Chandra Shekhar, HD Devegowda and IK Gujral.
They lose elections – Rajiv Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.Or they are a stopgap administrative arrangement, like Gulzari Lal Nanda. But they have not retired. Manmohan Singh has an opportunity to do so.
Whatever happens from here on, this is it for Singh. He has never led the Congress in an election. He will not do so in the summer General Election.
He has done close to ten years as prime minister. His age, energy levels and policy initiatives do not suggest that he will add to those years in the top post. He is mentally done with 7 Race Course Road.
All that remains is to see if he completes his second and last term. The Congress leadership has been inundated with opinion, partly fuelled by them, that Rahul Gandhi ought to replace Singh as prime minister right away.
The idea here is that Rahul Gandhi can form his team and do an Arvind Kejriwal, unleash anti-corruption and pro-people policy, on a pan-Indian level. The hope: it would transform energy in the Congress and trigger goodwill for the party.
This would need Singh to quit first. We will know in Singh’s 3 January 2014 presser. In any case, it is either now or five months later. Irrespective of what Singh says, however, we have our occasion to say goodbye. We have an opportunity to bring our relationship with a prime minister to a close before an election. This is rare.