When India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appeared on Indian national television a full 18 hours after terror attacks started ripping apart Mumbai, he achieved quite an amazing feat. He turned a national emergency, crisis and tragedy into a Grade A snooze fest.
The speech - which can be viewed here for anyone suffering from chronic insomnia - had all the urgency of a road safety public service announcement. Even the static graphic headlines "40 Held Hostage at Trident!" and "101 Killed in Attack!" plastered across his face on the TV screens had more life than Dr Singh, who read the autocue as if he was struggling through an on the spot translation of Pig Latin.
Was a decision made to make it so boring that the majority of his viewers - the notoriously hot-headed population of India, teetering at that point on the brink of hysteria - would not rise up as one and rampage across the border?
The quaint use of Indian-English aside - when did you last hear anyone outside of a W E Johns novel using the word "dastardly?" - the content hardly indicates that the game plan was to pacify by sending India into Prime Ministerial induced coma. Along with suggestions that "external forces" (guess who that might be?) were responsible, there were strong words of resolve. But during a national crisis, was that really the best Dr Singh could do?
I once saw Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh together at a rally in Delhi, shortly after the 2004 elections. Congress were flying high from their victory. Sonia Gandhi was compelling in front of the 20,000 strong crowd. Manmohan could barely be heard as people around me chatted, ordered food, made phone calls, played games and even sang songs during his incredibly boring speech.
By all accounts, Manmohan Singh is a decent man. He is recognized as a brilliant economist with a formidable intellect and a commitment to his country. He is a technocrat, not a party hack, and as such, he lacks the loyalty of the Congress Party's hard men and number crunchers who would allow him to wield the power to act decisively while maintaining party loyalty.
His public appeal for peace and unity in the face of such terror was obviously sincere, but Indians gathering in the street demanding war drowned his message. And they continue to drown it, as tensions increase.
Dr Singh is not only there to calm the frayed nerves and tempers of Indians. He is there to let the world know that two nuclear powers are taking this issue sincerely. A theatrical public performance won't achieve this. But a display of leadership, capability, and resolve to the rest of the world will help. As I watched Manmohan Singh in his address to the nation, all I felt was dread.