Dr. Manmohan Singh: Once a wizard and now a poodle
Nita & Dave Anand
Hailed as the author of India's success story and savant of global economy — India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh only a few years ago was put on the short list for appearing on the Time Magazine's cover as their Person of the Year to honor his economics wizardry.
Instead last month — the 79-year-old statesman and economics guru, who did wonders for India' growth in the past two decades, first as the Finance Minister and lately as the head of the country — featured on the Time Magazine's Asia edition with the caption that said: "The Underachiever, India needs a reboot."
Born in Gah, Punjab in British India (now Pakistan) in 1932, Singh was forced to migrate to India when the country was partitioned in 1947. He put his refugees' mind to good use by first studying at Punjab University, followed by Cambridge University and University of Oxford, where he excelled in economics. He was appointed governor of the Reserve Bank of India between 1982 and 1985 and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission of India from 1985 to 1987. Elected in 1991, Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao handpicked Singh as his finance minister the same year, a post he served until 1996.
Singh first displayed his economics genius during his tenure as finance minister when he carried out bold reforms that broke the dual camels' back of bureaucratic control and socialist dogma. He ended the much dreaded License Raj system that was throttling India's growth and was behind its poor economic performance for decades before and after India achieved Independence in 1947. His implementation of social and economic programs to benefit the common man ("Aam Aadmi") helped in addressing the extreme poverty challenge India faced when he took office.
As luck would have it —Singh became the first Sikh prime minister when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance won the 2004 general elections; the Congress President Sonia Gandhi declined the position and unexpectedly chose him to lead the country. Because of their first term success, the UPA and Singh were reelected for a second consecutive five year term in 2009, but with the political acumen of both Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi.
Singh's impotence as prime minister comes from the fact that he has no political base or constituency in Punjab where he hails from. As a result, Singh has never tried winning a Lok Sabha or Lower House seat of the Parliament of India, even though he has been nominated four times to be Upper House (Rajya Sabha) member, representing the state of Assam (not Punjab).
Indians and the World-at-large know that Singh owes his prime-minister-ship to Sonia Gandhi, who as the Congress party head wields enormous power. It is no wonder the British daily, The Independent, has called him "Sonia's Poodle" in a recent report that is critical of Singh's inability to control rampant corruption and bureaucratic malaise, leading the entire country to a standstill.
While Singh is clean himself, many of his cabinet ministers as part of the wider UPA governing coalition, have been accused and put behind bars for defrauding the country to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars in scams related to telecom, mining, infrastructure, public properties, and so on. Since all this happened under Singh's watch — he is accountable and is paying a steep price as these extremely corrupt ministers have weakened him to such a point that the Indian masses want him out for the greater good of the country.
Today, the huge fiscal deficit and a falling rupee are adding salt to India's economic wound. Foreign investment by institutions has dried up and rather they have withdrawn huge sums, while the public is losing confidence in the governance by its leaders, who are unable to implement the promised reforms.
However, Singh refuses to be cowed down by such vicious onslaught on his person as well as downgrading of country by the rating agencies. Instead, he exuded confidence by deflecting criticism and attributing current economic downturn to uncertain global economy and oil prices over which, India has little or no control. Singh recently said: "These are times when our will and determination are being tested, but we must stay the course and have faith in ourselves; only then, we will emerge stronger from these testing times."
Praising the UPA government, Singh rattled of its various accomplishments that include: declining of poverty, increase in real wages, accelerated agricultural growth, empowering of citizens and enhancement of country's security.
But experts within the country and outside are not impressed by his rhetoric since the economic figures tell a different story.
Singh's lack of political authority to take actions has slowed country's growth to a shocking 5.3 percent for the first quarter of the new fiscal year, which is lowest in the past nine years during which India touched record 8-10 percent growth under his stewardship. In fact, his boldness and economics wizardry since 1991 has helped rewrite the story of India's progress, which has even gained accolades such as "Incredible India."
To bring the currently derailed India back on its track and save his legacy — Manmohan Singh would need to recoup his magic touch and a bit of political luck — once again. This must happen sooner than later, as the wellbeing of the country and its over 1 billion people he oversees rests on his broad economic shoulders, but first he must get rid of all the grand thieves in his cabinet who are stealing the money of already poor people.
All of the above leads us to a trillion dollar question: Will Manmohan Singh sacrifice the PM-chair for salvaging his legacy?
Currently in India, the country of their ancestors and inherited properties, Anands are proud residents of Trumbull since 1978.