Thanks for everything, Dr Singh!
Ramachandra Murthy: Thanks for Everything, Dr Singh! Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told his personal staff bidding them farewell as he was preparing to shift from 7, Race Course Raod, his residence for a decade, to a nearby Lutyens’ Bungalow in a couple of days.
“You served the nation well. God bless you”, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told his personal staff bidding them farewell as he was preparing to shift from 7, Race Course Raod, his residence for a decade, to a nearby Lutyens’ Bungalow in a couple of days. These words, in fact, apply more aptly to the PM himself. He conducted himself in a dignified and decent manner doing a great service to the people of India.
The mild-mannered economist-statesman makes an easy punch bag. From Lal Krishna Advani, Narendra Modi to Arun Jaitley, many opposition leaders heaped on him the choicest epithets like ‘weak prime minister’, ham-handed administrator, puppet in the hands of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, etc. More things are in store. The moment the results of the national elections are announced on Friday, Congress leaders would be lining up to blame Manmohan Singh in their anxiety to absolve Rahul Gandhi, Vice President of the party, of any responsibility for the drubbing the party received in the elections.
It is impossible not to think of PV Narasimha Rao while talking about Manmohan Sigh. Both had become scapegoats after their innings. Dr Singh is fortunate in the sense that he does not evoke contempt in the hearts of Gandhis as PV did. We tend to remember the bad things and ignore the good deeds. When a reference is made to PV, we talk about demolition of Babri Masjid, Urea scam, purchasing of MPs belonging to Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, extra-constitutional authority like Chandra Swamy etc. Same would be the case with Dr Singh. We will be complaining about 2G Scam, coalgate, falling growth rate, shrinking GDP, rising inflation, policy paralysis etc. He would be blamed for not confronting the corrupt underlings.
As Dr Singh said in his last media conference, historians would judge him more kindly than the present-day journalists or politicians. Ditto for PV. These two leaders are not blessed with sympathetic biographers like to inform the world about the great service they rendered to the nation. Nobody was inspired to write about PV’s innings as PM. None is prepared to acknowledge that he was the harbinger of economic reforms. Dr Singh would perhaps write an autobiography after retirement and narrate the story of how he was made Finance Minister and how he succeeded in freeing Indian economy from the shackles like license-permit raj and labyrinth of rules and procedures.
PV was too careful to call a spade a spade and preferred to tell the story of his life through fiction. Dr Singh has at least a sincere friend in Dr Sanjaya Baru who penned a biography with noble intention of perhaps pre-empting the impending attack on the PM at the end of his long term. Writing about the unenviable position of Dr Singh, Sanjaya Baru says, in his book, ‘The Accidental Prime Minister-The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh’, that the PM was burdened with a “Politically fatal combination of responsibility without power”. In fact, the story of Dr Singh has to be anchored in the context of an economist being pushed into a political role, way back in 1991, catapulting into Union Cabinet handling the most critical portfolio of Finance. Since PV cannot write anymore and Guru Charan Das gives a brief account in “India Unbound”, it is for Dr Singh to write how he felt working as Finance Minister getting all the political support from Prime Minister PV and, after a gap of 8 years, as Prime Minister working under the watch of Sonia Gandhi, the matriarch of the Congress’s first family.
Being a north Indian, Dr Singh can expect to be spared of undue blame by authors in Delhi. PV had no such benefit. He was uncharitably portrayed as a villain of the piece by an accomplished journalist like Kuldip Nayar, who described the unfortunate incident of demolition of Babri Masjid in his book, saying that PV was sitting for hours in puja with closed eyes which he opened only after someone whispered in his ear that the Masjid was no more. IAS and IPS officers who were working with PV throughout December 6, 1992 called Kuldip’s narrative as a cock and bull story. PV had his quota of weak points. But personal corruption was not among them. He would have been felicitated by Sonia Gandhi, as Manmohan Singh was given a warm send off on Wednesday evening with all the Congress dignitaries in attendance, if only he had been as docile as the good doctor. PV could not be expected to be a subservient since he was a born politician who came up the political ladder working with the likes of Swami Ramanand Tirth and fighting against Nizam rule. That is a different story.
Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate, was right when he chided Manmohan Singh for failing to trumpet success for which he largely gets credit. The areas where Manmohan Singh can take credit are poverty reduction, rural employment, food schemes, polio eradication and controlling AIDS epidemic. Had PV-Manmohan Singh duo not kick-started growth with the first generation reforms, we would not have enjoyed so many benefits of developments. As John F Kennedy said on a thanksgiving day, “We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference to our lives”, Indians have to first thank the duo for liberating the economy with the so-called Hindu rate of growth, for giving freedom from the tyranny of watching the government-owned Doordarshan and allowing the pleasure of watching the bold, beautiful, articulate and intelligent young men and women bringing the whole national election scene to our households through the 700-plus satellite TV channels. Private FM radio stations were not even in the realm of imagination in 1980s. Telephone revolution was ushered in due to the policies implemented by Manmohan Singh.
Some 20 years ago some aggressive and enterprising Indians used to smuggle foreign currency while travelling to other countries. Thanks to the changes introduced in Forex rules, we are now able to travel to any country for holiday or studies or business with enough foreign exchange in our pocket in right royal way. We would not have dreamt of world class airport at Shamshabad in Hyderabad but for the reforms regime envisaged by Dr Singh. Naredra Modi, the BJP’s PM candidate, would not have received such a huge support across the country had Dr Sigh not helped the middle class to bulge.
Modi got his young admirers who voted him in large numbers because of election reforms which allowed the 18 years old to exercise franchise. It was he who influenced millions of young men and women who are enthusiastic votaries of market economy and the development model that the Congress and the BJP had come to worship since 1991. Earlier, we were familiar with only Ambassadors, Fiats and the Maruthi cars. The glittering and fabulous cars that we find all over the country, including in remote villages, were solely due to the liberal policies pursued by the Prime Minister who is demitting office on the 17th. PV used to talk about human face to the economic reforms.
Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi gave the welfare dimension to the economy in a remarkable way. The right wingers consider this as responsible for the slowdown in economy. The Right to Information Act, Right to Education Act, Unique Identification Authority and many other measures were introduced by Manmohan’s regime. The development of IT industry in the country, creation of hundreds of millions of jobs and generation of billions of dollars of revenue are due to the foresight of Dr Singh among other policymakers.
When Lehman Brothers broke and fell flat, economies all over the globe collapsed. But India’s economy stood its ground thanks mainly to the precautionary inputs that went into policymaking. The mobile you have in your hand from which you can carry bank transactions, see TV channels, read newspaper websites has become a basic need today. The ATM card in your purse was not known earlier. If we blame Manmohan for all the problems our economy is facing, he should get credit for the good things for which he was responsible. He was instrumental in reinstituting the value of inclusive growth and transparent governance. He did not start any war nor did he provoke any.
There has been relative peace and harmony during his tenure. On balance, he comes across as a wise, modern- minded and statesmanlike prime minister who took the country forward unperturbed in the face of unkind criticism, merciless ridicule and debilitating limitations of working in the shadows of the UPA chairperson. An entirely different leader, far more aggressive, assertive and dynamic, who had emerged as the face of the BJP is going to take over from Dr Singh. Let us wish the octogenarian PM a well deserved retired life and remain grateful to him for what he had done for the nation.