If Manmohan Singh was ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’, then I must say that it was a rather pleasant accident, a serendipity. In fact, his life offers great lessons and inspiration to the people of India, especially the youth.
Manmohan Singh’s early life is a story about a boy who lost his mother at a young age and whose family was displaced by Partition. He was perhaps the first member in his family to pursue higher education, he topped almost every exam that he wrote, secured a scholarship to study in Cambridge University where he won multiple prizes including the famous Adam Smith prize (past winners included the likes of J.M. Keynes). After securing a D.Phil. from the University of Oxford, he went on to become one of the top economists of the modern era with a distinguished career spanning the globe.
Surely, this is far more inspirational for any young Indian today than apocryphal tales of exaggerated achievements that are being published by the BJP’s propaganda machine.
All his life, Singh never actively sought or craved for a position, the vanities and the accoutrements of a public office were never an attraction for him, but whenever his nation called upon him, the soft-spoken, erudite patriot was there for his motherland, always going beyond the call of duty. His contribution to Indian educational institutions, various advisory roles to government institutions, tenure as the Governor of the Reserve Bank all tell the story of an assiduous technocrat, who went about his duties diligently, observing the highest standards of probity.
With the Indian economy on the precipice and I.G. Patel having refused the poisoned chalice of the finance ministry, former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao turned to Singh to save the country from an economic debacle. Once at the helm of affairs in North Block, the new finance minister went about his task in the right earnest. The reforms that he initiated unleashed the animal spirits of the Indian economy. He was conscious of not leaving the task half done and used the opportunity presented by the balance of payment crisis to engineer an overhaul of the Indian economy, that propelled our nation to the glory and prosperity that we enjoy today.
As a Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh’s contribution has been exceptional too. The BJP’s recent statistical skullduggery cannot take away the fact that the growth witnessed by the Indian economy was far more inclusive than the pseudo ‘India Shining’ campaign of NDA-I era.
The transformative effects of MGNREGA, especially in terms of real wages and spending power in rural India, the breakthrough in US-India nuclear deal that ended India’s nuclear isolation, making telecom and aviation affordable to the commoner, elimination of long-standing scourges such as polio, the urban renewal schemes, creation of new IITs, IIMs and knowledge cities, drawing the blueprint of GST, retail and insurance reforms, and most importantly, introducing RTI to encourage citizen’s interface with the government and to increase transparency—these are all actual achievements and not mere sloganeering.
One would rather have an “accidental” Prime Minister who achieved impressive GDP growthrates and built institutions, than a whimsical Prime Minister who caused deliberate accidents such as demonetisation and blatantly undermines the country’s top institutions.
As the 2019 national elections come closer, the Narendra Modi government has rather tactlessly resorted to its old chestnut of targeting the Gandhi family again. In doing so, they have decided to back a film based on memoirs of a panjandrum who clearly had an exaggerated estimation of his own importance and low estimation of professional propriety.
One wonders if a media adviser, that too for barely four years in a total tenure of 10 years, is so influential as to be privy to PMO’s dealings in all matters. The grace and dignity with which Singh has disassociated himself from this controversy is quintessentially him and is a well-deserved snub for the author of the book and makers of the film.
One would assume that people learn from their mistakes, but that doesn’t appear to be true for the BJP. In the run-up to the 2004 elections, sections of the BJP initiated a visceral attack on Sonia Gandhi and questioned her right to be the Prime Minister of India, even when the UPA under her leadership had won a decisive mandate. But Sonia Gandhi’s decision to give up the top job in the country sent the BJP scurrying for cover. In nominatinga man of accomplishment with impeccable credentials and pristine character, she had given the country a great leader. Nervous at their own poor performance in the last five years and the recent electoral setback, now the BJP is hoping that a cock and bull story will reap rich electoral dividends for them in the 2019 elections. Unfortunately for them, the Indian voter doesn’t base her voting preference on the basis of works of fiction.
The author is finance & planning minister, Punjab.