I first met Manmohan Singh in Rashtrapati Bhawan when I had just finished school. I was all of 18-19 years old and as part of a function I was in the President’s House and sitting in the front row waiting for the event to start. A man in a stark white kurta-pyjama and a blue turban came and sat two seats away from me. I turned around and Dr. Singh was right there.
I have been a student of economics, communications, politics and marketing through school and college. I felt awkward as this was the man who had just unleashed India’s power by opening up the Indian economy. His stint as Finance Minister had just ended and a United Front government had taken over the reins of India. His policies had resulted in heady growth for India. Here the man was sitting next to me and I was tongue-tied.
A couple of minutes later he turned towards me with a smile with his hands outstretched to shake mine and said, "Hello beta, I am Manmohan Singh. May I ask who you are?" I just smiled, shook his hand and said, "Who doesn’t know you, sir?" and went on to introduce myself. We continued our conversation for a while and I told him that what he has done for India was incredible and I hope he gets a second chance to take us even further. He replied, "If the people of India, give me another chance, I would love to work harder and more for them." I realised that here was a man who wasn’t just a politician, but a man of international acclaim, and yet so humble. It surely left an impression on me.
The second chance he got he became the prime minister of India and in a few days from today he will leave this post, in all likelihood for a new government from a different political party. In these ten years, while he was somewhat silent (he gave 1100- odd speeches in 10 years), his work took us to be the third largest economy of the world. Additionally under him, India’s per capita income grew by three times and almost 15 crore people were taken out of poverty in the country. His quiet working style has many critics, but the work he has done so far have won him many admirers as well.
Today as India, once again stands at the cusp of change, I hope the new government will continue his policies to make India grow further. However, I am a little sad today as despite his many achievements, he has been under personal attacks. The personal attacks have reached this level that his family had to issue statements publicly for the first time in his public life. His personal integrity and his stint as finance minister and prime minister have been gold standard.
I would argue that he was as much a statesman as Nehru, his stint matched the first six years of Indira Gandhi’s term as the prime minister. He achieved as much as any politician has in independent India. To sully that would be to sully what the country has achieved despite the last three years of riding the rough waters of international economic downturn and the perils of coalition politics. I hope one-day soon enough, sometime in the not so distant future, we would look back at India’s golden period as the ones where Manmohan Singh was the finance minister and prime minister, and as one of the best times for independent India.
I respect the man and thank him!