Despite plummeting popularity in recent years and a crushing election defeat, Manmohan Singh’s many achievements should not be forgotten
Over the past couple of days, I have watched Narendra Modi’s election victory speeches in Vadodara, Delhi and Varanasi. I did not watch Manmohan Singh’s farewell address to the nation, a day after his government was voted out of power, as I expected it to be boring and clichéd. Singh is history, Modi is the future.
Reams will be written about Singh’s 10-year tenure as Prime Minister of India. Most current analysis and literature, including Sanjaya Baru’s book, have not been very kind. Given Modi’s stupendous victory, the country was clearly dissatisfied with Congress-led government effectively run by the Gandhi family. Manmohan will recede from memory, even as Indians hope the Modi government will take the country forward to new highs and achievements, as promised.
However, for a moment I would like to pause and thank Manmohan even as the Modi juggernaut swamps all consciousness and TV moves to the next big story.
As original architect of India’s economic reforms, Manmohan failed in the last 3-4 years when the country needed a fresh dose of change.
However, he has had some part to play, including as finance minister, in getting India to the position it is in right now – the third largest economy in the world with several sectors such as IT, auto, hospitality, telecom, knowledge outsourcing at cutting edge and world class.
Millions, including myself, have benefited. Over the last decade incomes and investments for many have grown to levels that our parents could have never imagined even a decade back.
This, in turn, has engendered high aspirations among millions more. The results of national elections have made clear the people of India do not want a paternalistic government that hands out free doles. They find it demeaning. They want much more, like the others.
They can sense and witness prosperity around them, for real, on TV, the Internet, and through word of mouth, especially of migrant workers from Bihar, UP, West Bengal employed in progressive states such as Gujarat or Maharashtra.
They want to afford the cars and air conditioners, travel in planes, send their kids to private schools that function and teach English, access good medical facilities, and a clean and safe environment. Nobody is going to be satisfied with some free rice, kerosene and few weeks wages for labor. They are not beggars seeking alms.
Manmohan delivered in the past, he needed to deliver more. Unfortunately, he lacked the political support and space. Given his inherent decency, Manmohan chose to remain silent rather than take on the Gandhi family and their corrupt cohorts. The Congress party’s thinking was muddled, uninspiring and random as portrayed by Rahul Gandhi’s vacuous smile when he accepted defeat.
Modi has a big task in hand. Like Manmohan did in the past, he will need to ensure that millions more Indians see their incomes and investments grow exponentially. In these elections Modi has broken many records – the margin of victory at Vadodara, a clear majority for a non-Congress government for the first time in Independent India’s history. This is just the beginning.
Modi will need to break many many more records, plug the gaps and inequalities, efficiently manage India’s natural resources such as oil, gas and coal; revamp infrastructure such as roads, power generation, railways; streamline defense procurement and production; clean the rivers; and turn private enterprise even more robust. The nation will watch his every step.
Expectations are very high. I want to thank Manmohan for whatever he did for the country. It was no small achievement.
Retire in peace, Dr Singh. You can be blamed, but others should be blamed much more for the defeat of the government you headed.