By H Natarajan
Manmohan Singh and Mahendra Singh – two of the most powerful men in India. One leading the world’s largest democracy, the other leading the national team of world cricket’s financial powerhouse. However, the two “MS” find themselves in the grip of an unprecedented siege that has made them the focus of global attention.
On the face of it, Dr Manmohan Singh and Dhoni may seem two contrasting personalities, but if you dig deep there are fascinating similarities between the two.
It was under Manmohan Singh’s tenure as Finance Minister (FM) - with PV Narasimha Rao as the Prime Minister - India carried out economic reforms that ended the Licence Raj system and made the nation fertile for foreign trade and investment. Much of the country’s new-found prosperity was due to Manmohan Singh’s vision in the early ‘90s. If India is being increasingly perceived as an emerging Superpower, it’s because of Manmohan Singh’s pioneering work then as FM.
Likewise, it was under Dhoni that India emerged as a global cricketing force. It was under his leadership that India won the T20 World Cup, the ICC 50-over World Cup and, of course, rose to the No 1 status in Test cricket.
If Indian economy had never seen such highs since its Independence on August 15, 1947 then Indian cricket has not seen such peaks since the team’s international debut in 1932. The biggest commonality between the two men is their equanimity at all times. Their ability to remain calm in the most stressful situations was seen as their biggest asset.
Manmohan Singh is one of the most educated and cerebral heads of government in the world, while Dhoni’s success as India’s cricket captain has triggered the interest of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ranchi, to brain map him alongside Narayana Murthy – founder of Infosys, the most precious jewel in India’s Information Technology crown.
If there is one thing Manmohan Singh has which Dhoni doesn’t, it’s the prefix “Dr”. But Dhoni can have the satisfaction of an honorary doctorate when United Kingdom’s De Montfort University (DMU) will confer that prefix on him this week.
Both men are huge global personalities. Manmohan Singh was ranked No 18 on the 2010 Forbes list of the world's most powerful people, while Dhoni was ranked by the equally prestigious Time Magazine in the magazine’s list of 100 most influential people of 2011.
Yet, these two iconic figures in India’s history are now the target of the nation’s ire. Both men have fallen from their high pedestal. And popular public opinion is that their downfall has not so much to do with their own ability as because of those people closest to them. The plight of both men has a lot to do with the mismanagement of people with authority close to them – Manmohan Singh because of the Gandhis and corrupt ministers, and Dhoni because of the BCCI and a few players who are taking for granted the pride of playing for the country.
Even his worst detractors will never accuse Prime Minister Manmohan of being corrupt, but it’s his sustained silence when the nation was being looted by his colleagues – people on whom the people trusted and elected - that has angered the countrymen. As the head of the government, the buck stops with Manmohan Singh. It was his duty to protect national interest. And he failed miserably at that.
Dhoni, in many ways, was like Manmohan Singh. He stayed quiet and looked helpless behind the wickets, unable to lift a demoralized army in the recently-concluded Test series which India lost 0-4. Worse, he later came to media conferences and defended the indefensible. It was not just the decline and fall of the team, but its priorities, commitments and professionalism that was questioned not just by mediapersons but some of the most respected names in international cricket.
The monk-like posture of both Dhoni and Manmohan Singh, which was earlier perceived as one of their biggest assets, was now seen as their biggest negative. And as a result they came under a siege from the sustained pressure of two A Teams – Team Anna and Team Andrew (Strauss).
The misgovernance of the Manmohan Singh-lead government has angered the people like never before in Independence India history and has forced them to bow before the wishes of the people. At just about the same time, the Dhoni-led Indian team has suffered its most humiliating defeat in 43 years. And like in the case of the Indian government, the anger against Team India was because of their arrogant approach and attitude.
Manmohan Singh continues to be the Prime Minister, but already some of his biggest lieutenants like P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Manish Tiwari have been forced to recede in the background. And as Team India prepares for the one-day series ahead against a rampaging England, things don’t look good for Dhoni. Another series defeat could not only worsen things for Dhoni the captain but to some of the key members of his team as well.
There is no doubt that both Manmohan Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni are under huge pressure. And their troubles are far from over as they face greater challenges in the days ahead.
(H Natarajan, formerly All India Deputy Sports Editor of the Indian Express and Senior Editor with Cricinfo/Wisden, is the Executive Editor of CricketCountry.com. A prolific writer, he has written for many of the biggest newspapers, magazines and websites all over the world. A great believer in the power of social media, he can be followed on Facebook at facebook.com/H.Natarajan and on Twitter at twitter/hnatarajan)