India recently celebrated the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. He was the first PM who had completed 13 years in politics in the year 2004, the same year when he was elected as the Prime Minister. He was not a politician but is still applauded for his work, for which he is considered as a hero who saved India from the economic crisis in 1991.
Indira Gandhi once said, “My father told me that in politics there are two kinds of people. One who believes in the work and want to do that and the second kind of people who always want to take credit, and I have the found first kind of people very less.” I can say that Dr. Singh belonged to the first category who did a lot of work but never showed off.
It is quite amazing to know that the September 26 is not the original date of birth of Dr. Singh, according to his media advisor Sanjaya Baru’s book. When his grandmother took him to school and was asked about his birthdate, his grandmother told them she was not aware of the exact date, and that the school authorities can write on their own. Dr. Singh pursued BA Economics at Hindu College in Amritsar from 1949 to 1952, and then he attended Panjab University, in Hoshiarpur for his MA in Economics. In both the degrees he scored the first ranking. He went on to complete his economics Tripos at St John’s College in 1957 and earned a Ph.D. in economics from Nuffield College which is under Oxford University.
He has worked as a professor in Panjab and Delhi University, and also worked in the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) as the Governor and Director, and has also served as the Chairman of UGC. So, after twenty-five years in bureaucracy, he became the Finance Minister.
It was 1991, the country was going through an immense financial crisis and at that time, we had to mortgage the gold in the RBI reserves, which was airlifted to the Bank of England and Central Bank in Japan from where we got the mortgaged loan. Dr. Manmohan Singh, at that time, was the economic advisor of PM Chandrashekhar, he and the then RBI Governor S Venkataraman went to Chandrashekharji and advised him to mortgage the gold, to which he and Rajiv Gandhi agreed. It was S Venkataraman who gave this idea to Dr. Manmohan Singh.
Not only that, but during the America Iraq war of 1991, India supported America by providing fuel facilities to American fighter planes which were attacking Iraq, but only on the condition that America will help India to get a two billion dollar loan without conditions from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). At that time Dr. Subramaniam Swamy was the Indian Commerce Minister in the Chandrashekhar-led government who initiated the talks with the American ambassador in India which went successful, following which, we got the loan.
On June 21, 1991, Dr. Singh took oath as the Finance Minister of India under the PV Narasimha Rao government. When he took to office, at that time, Indian foreign exchange was only $1 billion, which was equal to 2 weeks import only. Within a month of his swearing-in, Dr. Singh tabled his first budget in which he said, and I quote, “No power on this earth can stop the idea whose time has come”.
He then made history by bringing in reforms to remove the ‘license Raj‘, reduced tariffs and interest rates, and introduced Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) which facilitated lots of foreign investment to India, and because of which we got our gold back from the International banks and ended public monopolies. Also, the reforms allowed automatic approval of foreign direct investment in many sectors, and also, the import duty on various items was reduced from 120% to 20% so that foreign companies could bring their materials to India.
According to Sanjaya Baru’s book, there were two leaders in the Congress, who later became ministers in Manmohan Singh’s government, who wanted to throw out Dr Singh from the Finance Minister post because they themselves were eyeing it. According to the book, they pressured Manmohan Singh, three times, to submit his resignation. Dr. Singh did it all three times but each time PM Rao refused his resignation. The last and fourth attempt happened in 1993 after the securities scam, when the opposition party and these leaders put pressure on him again to resign. But, this time, he didn’t listen to anyone and stuck to his post and completed his five years of tenure, and I think he was the first one who completed five years in a full government tenure as FM.
He was a husband with a formidable wife. The example cited in Sanjay Baru’s book is an incident where Dr. Singh was talking to him over a cup of tea along with other employees when one employee offered a samosa. Dr. Singh tried to eat it, but his wife Gursharanji stopped him saying that it will increase his cholesterol level.
In the end, I can say that India was lucky to have such an experienced man as a Finance Minister. As a Prime Minister, his government faced several corruption charges but not a single charge of corruption came on him.