A gentleman of Indian politics, Dr Manmohan Singh always prioritised intellect over politics

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New Delhi: After six terms and 33 years in Rajya Sabha, 93-year-old former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s glorious stint in Indian parliament and politics ends. He retires today.

The age and ill health have finally caught on with the sophisticated economist who could never become a deft politician despite occupying the highest chair for ten long years. The epitome of grace and politeness in Indian politics, Singh is best remembered for engineering India’s economic liberalisation (1991) as Finance Minister between 1991-96 and signing the Indo-US nuclear deal (2008) as the Prime Minister from 2004 to 14. Besides, the landmark Right to Information (RTI) Act-2005 and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA)-2005 that went on to make a huge impact on the social, economic and political landscape of the country were also passed under the premiership of Dr Singh.

The RTI Act has made the government accountable to the public. It has empowered the common man to demand information from any government ministry, agency or institution, thus making it a crucial tool in enhancing transparency and plugging corruption or bias. MGNREGA assures a minimum of 100 days of employment per year to rural youth within his village. Initially scoffed at by rival parties as a pit-digging and filling scheme, MNREGA has proved to be a game-changer in addressing rural poverty, unemployment and migration.

In Politics

A trained economist who initially taught at the London School of Economics before occupying various positions with the Union government in the Planning Commission, Reserve Bank of India and University Grants Commission etc, Dr Singh had never intended to be a politician. Destiny played a role here. In 1991, when newly appointed Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao’s first choice for Finance Minister I G Patel refused to take the offer, the burden fell on Dr Singh. As a union minister, Rao had known Dr Singh personally and decided to put his faith in him. The rest is history. The historic July 24, 1991 budget by Dr Singh not only dismantled the ‘License Raj’ but also opened the Indian economy for foreign competition. He allowed 51 per cent of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Indian companies and even reduced the fertiliser subsidies by 40 per cent in one stroke. A very unpopular budget attacked by all streams – the Rightists, Leftists, Mandalites, Farmers etc. But for Dr Singh, it was a bitter pill necessary for the Indian economy.

Three months later, in October 1991, Dr Singh was sent to the Rajya Sabha from Assam as the Indian constitution demanded a minister to be either from Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha. He was to have five more terms in succession.

Meanwhile, Dr Singh also contested the Lok Sabha election for the first and last time in 1999 from South Delhi. He lost to BJP stalwart VK Malhotra. Thereafter, Dr Singh never faced a trial in the people’s court and opted for the Rajya Sabha. He was also the Leader of Opposition (LoP) in Rajya Sabha from 1998 to 2004.

Prime Minister

Dr Singh was never a mass leader and was handpicked by the then Congress President Sonia Gandhi to lead the government in 2004. Yet, he has been able to carve a place for himself in the annals of Indian history through his intellect, vision and conduct. If there is one person who should get the credit for very healthy and friendly Indo-US bilateral relations today – it is none other than Dr Singh. He risked his government for the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008 and almost lost it when the Left parties withdrew support. Dr Singh was so convinced about the goodness of the deal and despite his party president having reservations, he went ahead. MNREGA, RTI, Aadhar, Direct cash transfers etc also made his government popular and should have been given credit for the Congress return to power in 2009. However, that was not to be. Only a Gandhi can be given such a medal. The credit was given to the party’s young General Secretary Rahul Gandhi.

Dr Singh’s second tenure from 2009-14 is more remembered for the various corruption charges that ministers of his government faced in the 2G Spectrum, the Coal Scam, the Commonwealth Games Scam etc. No one remembers that all the accused walked free from the courts.

Addressing a press conference at the fag end of his premiership when Dr Singh was severely criticised for scams under his watch, he said that “history will be kinder to him than the media”. Dr Singh has proved right in his lifetime only. Today, he already symbolises all that is good and gracious in Indian politics. He is missed.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone. The opinions and facts in this article do not represent the stand of News9.)

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