As Manmohan Singh retires from active politics, an era draws to an end. When the Indian Premiere bids his adieu to the South Block, its time to look back at the past decade to conclude if history will be kind to him.
Manmohan was the first Prime Minister after Nehru to rule India for ten year, or was he. However his image of a seasoned beurocrat has been marred by his loyalist obedience to Congress Dynastic Supremo Sonia Gandhi, who was the true monarch of India, even though Singh was a figurehead ruler. So, in reality no good or bad accredition will be deserved by Singh, even though one could argue why he never revolted against such oppression and whether at all he had any opinion.
“The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bone”. History will never remember of him but as a spineless victim without any skills of leadership. They will talk of how he failed to steer India to great height even though he had a kick start, he could have actually lead India to places.
I shall however try to look beyond the frailities of the man. I try to think of him as an Apolitical PM with more focus on national growth than personal ambition. He has served as the RBI Governer, policy maker and economic strategist for India at crucial times. Then as the finance minister his economic reforms in 1991 will be remembered for a long time. Actually, we cannot even visualise the pre-reform India, we have taken the open economy so much for granted, but those who do recall surely have Singh to thank for the new order. In 1991, Singh was a fearless soldier and an able operator to actualise what the ever-pouting Narasimha Rao had devised for India. They share few things in common: both were non-dynastic Congress leaders, both were silent workers. Worked without show. Both were well learned but lacked public connect, were not mass leader. Both will be conveniently forgotten by the Congress party.
If India has seen a decade of near 8% average GDP growth during his rule as a PM, she has also seen this growth dwindle to mere Hindu growth rate at the fag end of his term. Considering that he started with an already “Shining India”, he is surely not ending on a high note. That coupled with exorbitantly high inflation speak very poorly of an economist PM. In his defence it was not his fault solely, but when was anything his fault, he was not the driver, he was just being silent all the while. So, there was reverence for his person and criticism for his inactivity. This bipolar swinging carried on all through his term as the PM of the largest democracy. As in any democracy, one needs to reach out to the people, and here was a head of state, as inanimate as a statue, with feeble voice and irresolute political determination. No wonder he lost back to back general elections, he was never the people’s leader.
I can still recall the day in 2004, when Congress were placed ahead of the incumbent NDA, the stock markets crashed and Singh came out to defend the situation, speaking to the media, resolving doubts, appeasing the business world. He was asked if he was in run for the PM role, he blushed and waved his hand in embarrassment. My father pointed look, behold the next finance minster. What transpired in the Rashtrapati Bhaavan, I dont know, but suddenly he was announced the next PM. People were happy, few could have imagined what troubles could come when the spearhead is blunt.
UPA 1 sailed smooth until Left rocked the boat. The tie was an alliance of mistrust and any closeness to USA was surely calling for trouble. So, the boat started sinking. Desperate times called for shaking hands with the devil. Money was flying in the air in the Parliament room. Coalition pressure and bargaining began.
The story might have been very different if Congress ever had the single majority. They didn’t. So, political necessity lead to bribery and tolerance of evil. A series of unending scams followed, and Singh was as silent as ever. UPA 2 was a similar story but sometimes I wonder what his compulsions might have been. From tainted ministers to nuclear deal, controversy filled the air. Policies were being designed without much consideration to public benefit, FDI in retail to energy price deregulation. Coal scam, micro-finance scam, spectrum allocation scam..corruption was rampant.
Singh was being rediculed in public. New parties emerged out of this anti-incumbancy drive. Rahul Gandhi had the odacilty to tear off Singh’s policy in public. Pranab Mukherjee usually had his own way about fiscal policies and tax regulations. Singh’s voice remained unheard, he was meditating all the while. Congress proclaimed no early retirement for Singh yet, he must complete his term. He stopped making public speaches, perhaps because he had no defence for the ruckus.
He became an item of public mockery when some associate parties lead primarily by Mamata asked for his nomination for the next President.
Yet, we don’t doubt his integrity. That he is an honest man is unanimously affirmed. Now, as he leaves 7, Racecourse Road, he leaves behind himself a trail of a great thinker, economic policy maker and liberal administrator. He will be most remembered for the liberalization of the Indian Economy and success of giving India a long stable government. And if he is lucky, he will not be remembered as the PM he was.