The Blue Sardar
I like to believe that every person makes mistakes and sometimes those mistakes cannot be controlled by governance. I like to remember our prime minister as somebody who made extremely important decisions in his first tenure and I would like to continue to remember him for his achievements in those five years rather than his apathy in the second tenure. I write this as a memoir, as I grew up in the Dr.Singh led country. I am not politically motivated to write this, I do not want to embrace any political party, I write this for myself and maybe those few who would be interested to know an opinion. This is not endorsement and neither is it a rejection. I am just exercising my right as a citizen of a democratic country. I am also not trying to hurt any sentiments or anything else you have by this post or by the title of this post. The story of how the title came about is actually pretty funny but it shall never be revealed.
“When we look at our extended neighbourhood we cannot but be struck by the fact that India is the only open pluralistic democratic society and rapidly modernising market economy between the Mediterranean and the Pacific.” - Dr. Singh, Prime Minister of India
Summers are here in India and one thing has become apparent; the United Progressive Alliance does not seem to be coming back to power for a number of reasons. These reasons, some extremely apparent and in the public domain, some more subtly sidelined by the good ol’ folks running the alliance, even though they run ablaze in the minds of the people.
One of the biggest part of the United Progressive Alliance has been the Indian National Congress, the oldest political party in India. It’s formation even pre-dates the independence of India and it has been in the epicentre of the controversies and the scandals which have been exposed in the last five years of the UPA’s tenure. It has been extremely saddening to see a political party which garnered so much respect in the past, which gave independent India it’s first prime minister and followed up with creating some of the best and renowned politicians in the world stoop to such lows and create a mess of the emerging economy, that is India. I was shocked to see the things happening around me, economically speaking, specially when at the helm of things was one of the best finance ministers and economists India ever produced: Dr. Manmohan Singh, the only prime minister who got an opportunity to serve two-full terms after Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India.
Dr. Singh was at the Center and in-charge, the people of the nation entrusted enormous responsibilities and had high hopes from him, mainly because of the 1991 economic reforms he had brought in as the financial minister of India during the tenure of Narasimha Rao, India that time was comparable to Apple in 1997: On the verge of bankruptcy and suffering financial losses to a great extent. Dr. Singh and his team at the finance ministry laid out certain policies which not only combated the situation but provided, fundamentally a road-map for the development of India. He was critically acclaimed for his decisions and the way he implemented them and the public was in awe of his straight-forward approach towards these bold and risky policies including but not limited to: The end of Licence Raj
In the first term of the UPA, he did not disappoint either. The man was prodding the ministries and the nation to not only maintain sustainable growth but make incremental changes to the policies which mattered and were in favour of the national interest. He wanted to make sure that India didn’t miss opportunities, like it was historically known to do. Dr. Singh had a set of ideals that he would follow when it came to decisions pertaining to foreign policies and economic policies and thus, there was a surge in both India opening up to the world economy and also creating a more robust inland-economy. It was a joy to watch him do what he did best, he might not have been a good politician but he was indeed a great reformist. He was simple, quiet and wasn’t unnerved by the loud and outspoken opposition and sometimes the people from his own alliance. I respect him for holding on to his dignity and self-respect, I truly do. I saw him as somebody constantly trying to not only run an alliance with The Left-Wing but also someone who had to constantly deal with hindrances he faced from his own party. You have to understand and keep in mind all this, when you evaluate his results and when you only take into consideration the UPA’s first term; the results seem awesome and really substantial: a 7-9% YoY growth rate, when everybody had termed India as a bureaucratic giant where nothing would ever be achieved, Dr. Singh gained the confidence of the local investors, the NRI’s and the FII’s because he wasn’t a peasant who was put on the seat and entrusted with running a nation, he knew what mattered and where the money is and his goal was to get the money out of their pockets and into the economy. Even his critics would agree that he was successful in doing that to a great extent.
As somebody who was just learning about economic policies and social reforms and how the government really functions, I saw myself looking at the prime minister more closely as a great example of what I would want from a “perfect government”. He had created a liberal, pro-choice, stable and an economically thriving environment for businesses. I was simply flabbergasted by how one man was technically responsible for changing India from a socialist ideology to a mixed ideology, time and again, Dr.Singh showed that he cared for both the urban and the rural and he did an efficient job, nonetheless.
I remember the Indo-US Nuclear Deal, for some reason it was named the 123 Agreement, I am not going to get into the detail and pretend to know about atomic or nuclear energy or whatever that was but it was good and I still remember watching the parliamentary sessions. It was a beautiful show of how democracy works and how you cannot stop great things from happening even with the prevalent redtapism in India. You can obviously read more about it, if you are a nerd but I won’t bother linking to it because it really was pathetically boring. The end result which should be remembered was that India was freed from certain restrictions imposed by other countries after 33 years thanks to this deal and Dr. Singh was the reason it happened and instead of thinking about the country and what gratification this would lead to, the opposition and the other folks from his own alliance kept pulling him down but when Dr. Singh finally did manage to crack it, I remember being happy, it was good to see two of the biggest democracies come to a deal which was something more than one of the those treaties which talked about how both nations will act on global warming and other such hipster stuff. This deal was a landmark, something which should be taught in textbooks and it was obviously a part of Dr.Singh’s legacy.
“Basically it’s a good thing!” - Steve Jobs (1:54 - 2:20)
Things however, weren’t all that steady even during the first term, the Civil Aviation Ministry was under a lot of media pressure due to the scandals which came to light and were in regard to the national carrier: Air India among several other scandals which were making national headlines but that was a part and parcel of the everyday routine of India, a country wherein, mediocrity is the norm, in most cases and scandals by the government are as common as the flu.
Soon, the economists had sent out the message of the American recession hitting the bays of India, India was and is growing rapidly but opening up the economy also includes the bad things which come with it, it didn’t seem feasible for the growth to continue at such a pace, rather it seemed that the investor-wary market globally would bring in a negative growth to all emerging economies, India, obviously being one of them. However, the corrective steps taken by both the Government of India and the Reserve Bank of India made sure that we saw yet another year of positive growth. Dr. Singh was re-elected as prime minister because he was ‘The Godfather’ when it came to economic policies and economic crises, especially when the crises were global. The people did not trust or could not trust the other leaders during that phase, plus the young, middle-class and newly educated majorly wanted more stability and Dr. Singh seemed like he fit the bill.
I remember sitting down with a couple of friends from college and discussing this years later, we had a polar view from the economists concerning negative growth in emerging markets, it was a simple idea and we presented it to one of our faculty members who thought we were on to something: The idea was that the only countries which should or could come out of a global financial crises would be the emerging economies because even though they are part of the global economy, there was nothing wrong with their financial situations. (Remember how America became ‘America’ after the World War II was fought? The only reason they were the only ‘Western’ country to actually gain from the war was because they were insanely good at manufacturing and supplying arms and ammunitions and the war was never fought on their land.) Think of the recession as a war and you understand what I am getting at, the recession never actually hit India. Blame the pre-emptive discussions by economists, people of the opposition and obviously the media which led to people believing that it did and since we had to call it something, we termed it as ‘the slowdown’. Emerging markets have cheaper and usually a higher percentage of unskilled labor and such countries can not only provide services but tangible manufacturing products. People need those services to be provided and people need products to sustain. (Want to refute this? Email me! xoxoxo. k.)
When it comes to the second term, the prime minister was a sitting-duck waiting for something to happen by itself, kinda like those religious nuts who sit at temples and hope that God will take care of everything for them. It was saddening to see him like that and as the growth of the country fell to a mediocre level and the inflation index rose to levels which would give people heart-attacks, Dr. Singh was blamed, even though as I mentioned earlier, like most things in life; freeing up the economy has two sides to the coin and funnily enough, we saw both the sides during Dr. Singh’s tenure of ten years. The budgets introduced by the government had nothing for the people who voted for Dr. Singh and as per recent revelations by somebody who worked in the PMO and wrote a book about it, called ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ Dr. Singh had no say in those decisions either. Add to that the scams and scandals for which top-ministry folks were blamed, Dr. Singh had lost everything he had worked for. It was dismaying to see his utter incompetence during the last five years. History will hopefully be kind to him, for the people know, he has done more than every other PM has ever done for his nation, including but not limited to, getting Starbucks to India.
“Am I in trouble?” - Dr. Singh, Prime Minister of India