“The world is experiencing a shift in dynamics of growth from the west to the east. We cannot afford to lag behind rising economies of the east”
— Dr. Manmohan Singh in an address to the Congress Parliamentary Party.
Critics frequently deride him as ‘weak.’ Other vocal opponents smirk and call him a puppet prime minister, dancing to the strings of India’s most powerful woman, the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi. Yet, the 78-year-old Dr. Manmohan Singh, hailing from a minority community, has created history by becoming India’s second prime minister to be reelected to office after completing a five-year term. To put that in perspective, the last was the charismatic Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962. That’s a reason perhaps why U.S. President Barack Obama famously called him a ‘marvel for all the world.’
Manmohan Singh is that rare breed of Indian politician – he is not brash, in-your-face or prone to making controversial statements. He is instead highly educated and articulate. A graduate from Punjab University and later, the University of Cambridge in the U.K., Singh earned his doctorate from Oxford University, making him one of India’s foremost economists.
Thrown into government as early as 1972 when he was the Economic Advisor in the Commerce Ministry, Singh’s real success and indeed his route to fame began in 1991. His appointment as Finance Minister marked a turning point for the then stuttering Indian economy.
Today, India’s growth rate is often compared with that of China, and many credit Singh for the turnaround. Singh’s sweeping reforms in the 90s changed the landscape of the Indian economy, opening up the country for foreign direct investment, allowing for privatization of ailing public sector companies, and dismantling the elaborate system of bureaucracy and red tape that had dogged Indian business, colloquially known as the “License Raj.” The result? India, which until then had been languishing with a growth rate of barely 3% lurched ahead to touch 8%. Yet, in a national party that has always worshipped the Gandhi name, Singh stood alone, almost unnoticed.
When Sonia Gandhi thrust him into the role of Prime Minister in 2004, he was greeted with surprise and disbelief. Yet, in the characteristically reserved way that has marked his life, Singh shepherded India through the astonishing growth of 2007, and the depressing climbdown of last year. He takes charge again – knowing fully well that he inherits an economy that desperately needs a massive boost, bears the burden of a growing fiscal deficit, and harbors a large rural population that has yet to see the benefits of India’s growth over the years.
Contrary to his ‘weak’ image, Manmohan Singh is resolute – his unwavering commitment to the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal is a case in point – and as prime minister he has shown that he is not afraid of making the tough decisions, even at the risk of losing governance. This time, he has no such worry. Dr. Manmohan Singh now heads a government with a majority – a government that despite the unpredictable, chaotic mess of Indian politics should last five years. Can Singh get India back to that 8% growth again? As he said, India simply cannot afford to lag behind rising economies of the east.
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