The Economist Statesman: Dr. Manmohan Singh

Khushwant Singh

Dr. Manmohan Singh

Reflecting on the economic emergency, he describes the situation as follows: “Our Government, under the leadership of Shri Rao, assumed office amidst an economic crisis. Foreign reserves were dwindling, international commercial banks were reluctant to provide new credit, there were outflows from NRI deposits, and industrial growth had turned negative. For the first time in our history, we faced the possibility of defaulting on external payment obligations. Such a situation would have caused severe disruptions to the country’s economic and financial system, resulting in widespread unemployment, loss of output, and a high inflationary spiral. The government had to respond quickly to restore international confidence, control inflation, and correct the balance of payments. The immediate goal was to buy some time and then use the crisis as an opportunity for long-term structural reforms that would enhance the economy’s growth potential.”

He assured that comprehensive measures would help overcome the recession, but it would take 2-3 years. There were no false promises.

Daman recounts how she had to endure the backlash from the reforms as colleagues turned into critics. Fortunately, the reforms yielded quick results, and the economy began to recover. Dr. Singh was on a national mission, and the world was watching the experiment. He abolished the License Raj, reduced state control over the economy, and lowered import taxes. These measures removed many obstacles hindering Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and initiated the privatization process of public sector companies.

In his usual modest manner, Dr. Singh quotes an old adage that “success has many fathers, and failure has none.”

Dr. Singh emphasizes the importance of a competent and dedicated team for the country’s progress. He states, “The team I assembled consisted of men who were competent, capable, and committed.”

Expanding on his perspective, he explains, “I used to advocate for gradual change, but when I look at the world around us, I realize that time is not on our side.” He regards PV Narsimha Rao as an intelligent individual who built consensus through discussions. Dr. Singh experienced several firsts, including speaking in Parliament and presenting the finance budget, and he incorporated numerous Urdu couplets into his first speech.

Highlighting the advantages of liberalization, he asserts that it opened up the economy and introduced both domestic and international competition. “It provided us with access to foreign capital and technology.”

While he desired to see the upward trajectory of economic reforms continue, the confrontational atmosphere and communal tensions slowed down progress. In 1992, after the Babri Masjid demolition, tensions escalated, and businesses suffered. Another setback came with the Harshad Mehta scam in 1992, where the opposition held the finance minister accountable. During that time, he felt cornered, like a pigeon thrown to the cats.

Throughout his career, Dr. Singh never held a seat in the Lok Sabha and was always elected to the upper house. In 1998, he became the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha. He addressed matters related to foreign policy, national security, and internal security.

Despite his statesman status, Dr. Singh had never contested in any elections. In 1999, the Congress party fielded him as a candidate from South Delhi. The family rallied together for this challenging endeavor, although Daman experienced a nervous breakdown during that phase. Unfortunately, the Congress party did not win any seats in Delhi.

He continued serving as the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha until 2004.

Prime Minister

On May 22, 2004, Dr. Manmohan Singh took the oath of office as the 13th Prime Minister of India. The Congress party, having emerged as the largest party in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, astounded many by selecting Dr. Manmohan Singh to lead the United Progressive Alliance, a coalition that had been formed to secure the necessary support. The headlines of most newspapers the following day proudly proclaimed “Singh is King,” evoking a euphoric wave, particularly among the Sikh community. For them, it served as a soothing balm, healing the wounds inflicted upon their land, people, and collective consciousness during the tumultuous era of the 1980s.


National Press Conference, Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi, 2004 National Press Conference, Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi, 2004


Then, on August 11, 2005, during a speech in the Rajya Sabha, Dr. Singh extended a profound apology to the nation, specifically addressing the grievous events of the 1984 Operation Blue Star. He humbly declared, “I have no hesitation in apologizing to the Sikh community. I apologize not only to the Sikh community but to the entire Indian nation because the events of 1984 stood in stark contradiction to the principles of national unity enshrined within our Constitution.”

With a sterling reputation as a virtuous, benevolent, and industrious statesman, Dr. Manmohan Singh swiftly captured the hearts of his compatriots and garnered admiration from across the globe. He ascended to a leadership position that made the nation swell with pride, while world leaders stood in awe of his accomplishments.

While the scope of this article fails to encompass the entirety of his momentous tenure as Prime Minister, it is imperative to highlight the numerous monumental and historic policy decisions that marked his illustrious ten-year reign.

Amongst these remarkable endeavors, which not only improved the lives of millions but also steered the nation steadfastly towards progress, the following deserve special mention:

The Right to Education: A watershed moment occurred when the esteemed Dr. Manmohan Singh-led UPA government enacted the Right to Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act in 2009. This monumental legislation propelled the universalization of education for children aged 6 to 14, heralding a brighter future for generations to come.

The National Food Security Act: A transformative measure, this act bestowed legal entitlements upon families under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) scheme, granting them access to 35 kg of essential food grains per month. Furthermore, it ensured that other families received 5 kg per person at subsidized rates through the Public Distribution Scheme, thus fortifying the nation’s commitment to food security.

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MANREGA): One of the most extraordinary employment generation schemes globally, MANREGA was conceptualized and brought to life under the visionary stewardship of the Dr. Manmohan Singh government. Unveiled in 2006, this awe-inspiring initiative stands as the largest social welfare program of its kind, providing gainful employment to countless individuals in rural areas.

GDP: The UPA government’s tenure (2004-05 to 2013-2014) witnessed a commendable average GDP growth rate of 7.7%, defying global slowdowns and firmly establishing India’s economic prowess.

AADHAR: Under the sagacious leadership of the UPA government, the seeds of an audacious idea were sown – the creation of a unique identity for each citizen. This groundbreaking concept has since evolved into not only a basis for identification but also a catalyst for the development of a streamlined system for direct benefit transfers, bolstering the nation’s capacity to extend subsidies and other advantages. Undeniably, it stands as an emblematic manifestation of technology-driven transformation.

Right to Information Act, 2005: Only a leader with an unwavering commitment to transparency and accountability could have pursued a progressive initiative like the Right to Information Act. The enactment of this landmark legislation by the Dr. Manmohan Singh-led government empowered citizens to access vital information regarding governmental functions, paving the way for an informed and participatory democracy.

The list of achievements is as boundless as it is extraordinary, encompassing endeavors such as the peace process with Pakistan and the landmark nuclear agreement declaration in March 2006, which granted India access to American nuclear fuel and technology. Dr. Manmohan Singh, resolute in purpose, was a man who wanted to give his best to the nation.

In flight, 2008 In flight, 2008

Endowed with an unimpeachable integrity and an exemplar of governance, Dr. Singh’s stewardship propelled the UPA government to a resounding victory in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, affording him the opportunity to be sworn in for a second term on May 22nd, which he fulfilled with dexterity and integrity.

However, in the wake of the Congress party’s defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, amidst a tempest of controversies, internal conflicts, attempts to weaken its own Prime Minister and the soaring ascendancy of Narendra Modi, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat and the formidable prime ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Dr. Singh gracefully relinquished his office, having devoted an entire lifetime to the noble cause of serving the nation.

Towards the end of his second term, Dr. Singh prophetically remarked, “History will be kinder to me than the media.” Today, his words resonate with undeniable truth. The world reveres him as the visionary architect of modern India.

A brilliant scholar who excelled in his studies, consistently achieving top honors in every educational institute he attended, Dr. Singh went on to assume the distinguished role of Prime Minister of India not once, but twice. Presently, he leads a modest life in Delhi, and the Global Sikh Trail holds him in the highest regard as a true embodiment of his homeland.

This short biography of Dr. Manmohan Singh would not have been possible without the support of his daughter, Daman Singh, author of “Strictly Personal: Manmohan & Gursharan.”

Khushwant Singh