Akrita Reyar There are ever only a few men, in history or even in contemporary times, who have been so prodigiously placed in a position of the greatest power and at a time when the wheel of history is set for a decisive turn. Neither a man of lineage, nor wealth or even mighty inheritance, Dr Manmohan Singh had little to boast, but for his sharp intellect, quiet wisdom combined with an unalloyed determination to serve his nation that was standing at crossroads, when destiny beckoned him to shape India’s course. Much before he took over the reins as the executive of the largest democracy on Earth, Dr Manmohan Singh was asked to sculpt India’s future by the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, whose incisive vision selected him to pull back the country from the brink of a financial crisis and thus a terrible potential loss of face internationally.
Rich academic and professional career Yet unacquainted with the ways of Indian polity, this ace economist from Cambridge and Oxford, was more than once dubbed as cry baby when opposition aimed uncouth barbs at him - questioning that which was dearest to him, his integrity and intention to steer the country from the inclement economic times in his position as the Finance Minister. From 1991 till date his policy of economic liberalization has been followed, whether or not the Congress has been in power. Manmohan Singh, after all, was the first to introduce the concept of 9% GDP growth to an unbelieving populace, the lure of which was too hard to resist even for the NDA. A glimpse into how he envisioned India’s economic future was visible even in his college days. He published his book “India`s Export Trends and Prospects for Self-Sustained Growth”, criticizing India’s inward looking economic policy while doing his D. Phil in Economics from Nuffield College at Oxford University in 1962. A mere look at his education record and career span can take one’s breath away. It is no surprise then that his CV is considered the most decorated among the Prime Ministers of the World today. Dr Manmohan Singh began his career on the faculty of Punjab University, and shifted to prestigious posts with the UN and IMF before returning to India and joining the Government of India. He moved from one illustrious position to another – sometimes as the Economic Advisor in the Commerce Ministry and Ministry of Finance, to becoming Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Chairman of UGC and finally Economic Advisor to the Prime Minister - before taking up the position of a Cabinet Minister. Such is his stature in the international community that when the heads of states gathered for the UN General Assembly meeting, while President George Bush was neck deep into financial meltdown woes, he openly admitted that the one foreign dignitary he looked forward to meeting was Dr Manmohan Singh, for a piece of good advice on global recession. Perhaps, therefore, this otherwise unassuming man could rightfully challenge opponent L K Advani, questioning him about “what work he had had to show except the demolition of the Babri mosque”.
Tenure as PM Unable to find an answer to the PM’s humungous body of work, capacity to pull off impossible deals and his reputation of an upright man, the opposition has always been in an over drive to show him as a weak Prime Minister. Advani, as the leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, did not hesitate to call him a “Nikamma Prime Minister”(Useless Prime Minister), thus ending up only sullying his own image. Dr Manmohan Singh is now more conversant with the ways of the Netas and does not take things to heart so much, and instead concentrates on his work, besides taking a dig or two of his own at election rallies. Though usually soft-spoken and willing for consensus, the Prime Minister can dig in his heels when he wants to. Despite severe criticism of some of his advisors, including National Security Advisor M K Narayanan due to repeated terror attacks, he refused to drop them under pressure. But if it were to be that one deal that proves him to be a man with a backbone, it is undoubtedly the Indo-US nuclear deal. When his government’s own allies, the Left parties first objected to the N-deal, he painstakingly ensured each of their objections was suitably accommodated. However when he realized that the Left’s end game was different and not one based on rationality, he gave an ultimatum to Sonia Gandhi and his party to either back him the whole way or find a new PM. The Congress had no choice but to give in. With the first round in his favour, he then became party to one of the murkiest confidence votes, which also his government won. While mud splashed on his so-far squeaky clean image, no one could question his intention behind wanting to push the deal. It was not because he was getting dollars delivered in some Swiss bank account, but because he wanted to secure the energy needs of the India of tomorrow. Could all this have been possible without the unequivocal support of 10 Janpath. The answer is a clear no. To that extent the larger than life presence of Sonia Gandhi that looms over the PM’s image is justified. The circus of Indian politics is all about tamasha and wheeling-dealing. The lone time Manmohan Singh stood for elections from one of the poshest constituencies of India - South Delhi, he lost. In such a scenario to survive the sharks, not just without but also within his own party, would have been impossible without the backing of Mrs G. But Sonia Gandhi is no fool. She has taken her pick wisely. Manmohan Singh’s indisputable abilities, lack of cunning, absolute loyalty and lack of personal ambition; all have worked in his favour. On top of it, he is a Sikh. By installing the first Sikh Prime Minster of India, the Congress found an ideal opportunity to expunge the bloody stains that have marred its past relationship with the community. It is for all these reasons and his genuine efforts to take India towards progress that the Gandhi family continues to back him to the hilt. Plus, he keeps the seat warm while Rahul is groomed for the top job.
The Persona Born on September 26, 1932 in Gah, a small village in Pakistan Punjab, his family moved to India at the time of partition. His life in refugee camps and villages did not take away his zeal for excelling in academics, as he burned the midnight oil, literally, and to remarkable results, standing first in each class and grade. Recalling those years, he once made a moving reference in one of his speeches in Parliament. On the need to take electricity to every nook and corner of country, he remembered how difficult he used to find studying in the light of a kerosene lamp. As a person, he has often admitted that he is politician by accident or quirk of fate. His daughters, two are Professors and one is an Attorney, remember him as a father who inculcated in them literary interests. They recall how their weekend outings used to be to the Galgotia book store, where they were allowed to pick their choice of reads. And while he is known to be God fearing, his approach towards religion is moderate, and this reflects in his family - all his daughters are married outside the community. A man of simple taste and spartan lifestyle, he once met Shahrukh Khan and told him that he had recently seen one of his films, but did not quite recollect the name! Increasingly his health has come into focus with a recently concluded second heart bypass. Whether or not he would be able to win another term is yet to be seen, as political arithmetic of India is far too complicated for even the most erudite of economists. But what is irrefutable is that in his different capacities with the government, and especially as the Finance Minister and Prime Minister, this man has tried his best; to carve out a better tomorrow for this vast and complicated country. And for that he has given it his all. About what he has got in return…. In one of his rare moments of candour and relaxation, he confessed to his former Media Advisor Sanjay Barua that the best thing about being the Prime Minister, “was to gain a personal education at public expenditure”. If only all our politicians were driven by such motives!