Manmohan Singh

Manmohan Singh (born 26 September 1932) is an Indian economist, academic, and politician who served as the 13th Prime Minister of India from 2004 to 2014. The first Sikh in office, Singh was also the first prime minister since Jawaharlal Nehru to be re-elected after completing a full five-year term.

Born in Gah, Singh’s family migrated to India during its partition in 1947. After obtaining his doctorate in economics from Oxford, Singh worked for the United Nations during 1966–69. He subsequently began his bureaucratic career when Lalit Narayan Mishra hired him as an advisor in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. During the 1970s and 1980s, Singh held several key posts in the Government of India, such as Chief Economic Advisor (1972–76), governor of the Reserve Bank (1982–85) and head of the Planning Commission (1985–87).

In 1991, as India faced a severe economic crisis, newly elected Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao surprisingly inducted the apolitical Singh into his cabinet as Finance Minister. Over the next few years, despite strong opposition, he as a Finance Minister carried out several structural reforms that liberalised India’s economy. Although these measures proved successful in averting the crisis, and enhanced Singh’s reputation globally as a leading reform-minded economist, the incumbent Congress party fared poorly in the 1996 general election. Subsequently, Singh served as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the Parliament of India) during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government of 1998–2004.

In 2004, when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came to power, its chairperson Sonia Gandhi unexpectedly relinquished the premiership to Manmohan Singh. Singh’s first ministry executed several key legislations and projects, including the Rural Health MissionUnique Identification AuthorityRural Employment Guarantee scheme and Right to Information Act. In 2008, opposition to a historic civil nuclear agreement with the United States nearly caused Singh’s government to fall after Left Front parties withdrew their support. Although India’s economy grew rapidly under UPA I, its security was threatened by several terrorist incidents (including the 2008 Mumbai attacks) and the continuing Maoist insurgency.

The 2009 general election saw the UPA return with an increased mandate, with Singh retaining the office of Prime Minister. Over the next few years, Singh’s second ministry government faced a number of corruption charges—over the organisation of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the 2G spectrum allocation case and the allocation of coal blocks. After his term ended in 2014 he opted out from the race for the office of the Prime Minister of India during the 2014 Indian general election. Singh was never a member of the Lok Sabha but served as a member of the Parliament of India, representing the state of Assam in the Rajya Sabha for five terms from 1991 to 2019. In August 2019, Singh filed his nomination as a Congress candidate to the Rajya Sabha from Rajasthan after the death of sitting MP Madan Lal Saini.

 

Early life and education

Singh was born to Gurmukh Singh and Amrit Kaur on 26 September 1932, in GahPunjabBritish India, into a Sikh family. He lost his mother when he was very young and was raised by his paternal grandmother, to whom he was very close.

After the Partition of India, his family migrated to Amritsar, India, where he studied at Hindu College. He attended Panjab University, then in Hoshiarpur, Punjab, studying Economics and got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1952 and 1954, respectively, standing first throughout his academic career. He completed his Economics Tripos at University of Cambridge as he was a member of St John’s College in 1957.

In a 2005 interview with the British journalist Mark Tully, Singh said about his Cambridge days:

I first became conscious of the creative role of politics in shaping human affairs, and I owe that mostly to my teachers Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor. Joan Robinson was a brilliant teacher, but she also sought to awaken the inner conscience of her students in a manner that very few others were able to achieve. She questioned me a great deal and made me think the unthinkable. She propounded the left wing interpretation of Keynes, maintaining that the state has to play more of a role if you really want to combine development with social equity. Kaldor influenced me even more; I found him pragmatic, scintillating, stimulating. Joan Robinson was a great admirer of what was going on in China, but Kaldor used the Keynesian analysis to demonstrate that capitalism could be made to work.

After Cambridge, Singh returned to India and served as a teacher at Panjab University. In 1960, he went to the University of Oxford for the DPhil, where he was a member of Nuffield College. His 1962 doctoral thesis under the supervision of I.M.D. Little was titled “India’s export performance, 1951–1960, export prospects and policy implications”, and was later the basis for his book “India’s Export Trends and Prospects for Self-Sustained Growth”.

Early career

After completing his D.Phil., Singh returned to India. He was a senior lecturer of economics at Panjab University from 1957 to 1959. During 1959 and 1963, he served as a reader in economics at Panjab University, and from 1963 to 1965, he was an economics professor there. Then he went to work for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) from 1966–1969. Later, he was appointed as an advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Trade by Lalit Narayan Mishra, in recognition of Singh’s talent as an economist.

From 1969 to 1971, Singh was a professor of international trade at the Delhi School of EconomicsUniversity of Delhi.

In 1972, Singh was chief economic adviser in the Ministry of Finance, and in 1976 he was secretary in the Finance Ministry. In 1980–1982 he was at the Planning Commission, and in 1982, he was appointed governor of the Reserve Bank of India under then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and held the post until 1985. He went on to become the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission (India) from 1985 to 1987. Following his tenure at the Planning Commission, he was secretary general of the South Commission, an independent economic policy think tank headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland from 1987 to November 1990.

Singh returned to India from Geneva in November 1990 and held the post as the advisor to Prime Minister of India on economic affairs during the tenure of V. P. Singh. In March 1991, he became chairman of the University Grants Commission.

Political career

In June 1991, India’s prime minister at the time, P. V. Narasimha Rao, chose Singh to be his finance minister. Singh told Mark Tully the British journalist in 2005 “On the day (Rao) was formulating his cabinet, he sent his Principal Secretary to me saying, ‘The PM would like you to become the Minister of Finance’. I didn’t take it seriously. He eventually tracked me down the next morning, rather angry, and demanded that I get dressed up and come to Rashtrapati Bhavan for the swearing in. So that’s how I started in politics”.

Minister of Finance

In 1991, India’s fiscal deficit was close to 8.5 per cent of the gross domestic product, the balance of payments deficit was huge and the current account deficit was close to 3.5 percent of India’s GDP. India’s foreign reserves barely amounted to US$1 billion, enough to pay for 2 weeks of imports, in comparison to US$283 billion today.

Evidently, India was facing an economic crisis. At this point, the government of India sought funds from the supranational International Monetary Fund, which, while assisting India financially, imposed several conditions regarding India’s economic policy. In effect, IMF-dictated policy meant that the ubiquitous Licence Raj had to be dismantled, and India’s attempt at a state-controlled economy had to end.

Manmohan explained to the PM and the party that India is facing an unprecedented crisis. However the rank and file of the party resisted deregulation. So Chidambaram and Manmohan explained to the party that the economy would collapse if it was not deregulated. To the dismay of the party, Rao allowed Manmohan to deregulate the Indian economy.

Subsequently, Singh, who had thus far been one of the most influential architects of India’s socialist economy, eliminated the permit raj, reduced state control of the economy, and reduced import taxes

Rao and Singh thus implemented policies to open up the economy and change India’s socialist economy to a more capitalistic one, in the process dismantling the Licence Raj, a system that inhibited the prosperity of private businesses. They removed many obstacles standing in the way of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and initiated the process of the privatisation of public sector companies. However, in spite of these reforms, Rao’s government was voted out in 1996 due to non-performance of government in other areas. In praise of Singh’s work that pushed India towards a market economy, long-time Cabinet minister P. Chidambaram has compared Singh’s role in India’s reforms to Deng Xiaoping‘s in China.

In 1993, Singh offered his resignation from the post of Finance Minister after a parliamentary investigation report criticised his ministry for not being able to anticipate a US$1.8 billion securities scandal. Prime Minister Rao refused Singh’s resignation, instead promising to punish the individuals directly accused in the report.

Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha

Singh was first elected to the upper house of Parliament, the Rajya Sabha, in 1991 by the legislature of the state of Assam, and was re-elected in 1995, 2001, 2007and 2013. From 1998 to 2004, while the Bharatiya Janata Party was in power, Singh was the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. In 1999, he contested for the Lok Sabha from South Delhi but was unable to win the seat.

Prime Minister of India

14th Lok Sabha

After the 2004 general elections, the Indian National Congress ended the incumbent National Democratic Alliance (NDA) tenure by becoming the political party with the single largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha. It formed United Progressive Alliance (UPA) with allies and staked claim to form government. In a surprise move, Chairperson Sonia Gandhi declared Manmohan Singh, a technocrat, as the UPA candidate for the Prime Ministership. Despite the fact that Singh had never won a Lok Sabha seat, according to the BBC, he “enjoyed massive popular support, not least because he was seen by many as a clean politician untouched by the taint of corruption that has run through many Indian administrations.” He took the oath as the Prime Minister of India on 22 May 2004.

Economic policy

In 1991, Singh as Finance Minister, freed India from the Licence Raj, source of slow economic growth and corruption in the Indian economy for decades. He liberalised the Indian economy, allowing it to speed up development dramatically. During his term as Prime Minister, Singh continued to encourage growth in the Indian market, enjoying widespread success in these matters. Singh, along with the former Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, presided over a period where the Indian economy grew with an 8–9% economic growth rate. In 2007, India achieved its highest GDP growth rate of 9% and became the second fastest growing major economy in the world. Singh’s ministry enact a National Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in 2005.

Singh’s government continued the Golden Quadrilateral and the highway modernisation program that was initiated by Vajpayee‘s government. Singh also worked on reforming the banking and financial sectors, as well as public sector companies. The Finance ministry worked towards relieving farmers of their debt and worked towards pro-industry policies. In 2005, Singh’s government introduced the value added tax, replacing sales tax. In 2007 and early 2008, the global problem of inflation impacted India.

 

Family and personal life

Singh married Gursharan Kaur in 1958. They have three daughters, Upinder SinghDaman Singh and Amrit Singh. Upinder Singh is a professor of history at Ashoka University. She has written six books, including Ancient Delhi (1999) and A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India (2008). Daman Singh is a graduate of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi and Institute of Rural Management, Anand, Gujarat, and author of The Last Frontier: People and Forests in Mizoram and a novel Nine by Nine, Amrit Singh is a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. Ashok Pattnaik, 1983 batch Indian Police Service officer, son-in-law of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was appointed CEO of National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) in 2016.

Singh has undergone multiple cardiac bypass surgeries, the most recent of which took place in January 2009.

Degrees and posts held

Honours, awards and international recognition

In March 1983, Panjab University awarded him Doctor of Letters and in 2009 created a Dr. Manmohan Singh chair in their economics department. In 1997, the University of Alberta awarded him an honorary Doctor of Law degree. The University of Oxford awarded him an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree in July 2005, and in October 2006, the University of Cambridge followed with the same honour. St. John’s College further honoured him by naming a PhD Scholarship after him, the Dr. Manmohan Singh Scholarship. In 2008, he was awarded honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Benaras Hindu University] and later that year he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by University of Madras. In 2010, he was awarded honorary doctorate degree by King Saud University and in 2013, he was awarded honorary doctorate degree by Moscow State Institute of International Relations. In 2017 awarded Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development.

He has also received honorary doctorates from University of BolognaUniversity of Jammu and Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee.

Year Name of award or honour Awarding organisation
1952 University Medal for standing first in B.A. (Honors Economics) Panjab University, Chandigarh
1954 Uttar Chand Kapur Medal, for standing first in M.A. (Economics) Panjab University, Chandigarh {Was then in Hoshiarpur, Punjab}
1955 Wright Prize for Distinguished Performance St. John’s College, Cambridge, UK
1956 Adam Smith Prize University of Cambridge, UK
1957 Elected Wrenbury Scholar University of Cambridge, UK
1976 Honorary Professorship Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
1982 Elected Honorary Fellow, Indian Institute of Bankers Indian Institute of Bankers
1982 Elected Honorary Fellow, St. John’s College St John’s College, Cambridge
1985 Elected President of the Indian Economic Association Indian Economic Association
1986 Elected National Fellow, National Institute of Education National Institute of Education
1987 Padma Vibhushan Government of India
1993 Finance Minister of the Year Asiamoney
1993 Finance Minister of the Year Euromoney
1994 Elected Honorary Fellow of the All India Management Association All India Management Association
1994 Elected Distinguished Fellow of the London School of Economics London School of Economics, Centre for Asia Economy, Politics and Society
1994 Elected Honorary Fellow, Nuffield College Nuffield College, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
1994 Elected Distinguished Fellow of the London School of Economics London School of Economics, Centre for Asia Economy, Politics and Society
1994 Jawaharlal Nehru Birth Centenary Award (1994–95) Indian Science Congress Association.
1994 Finance Minister of the Year Asiamoney
1995 Jawaharlal Nehru Birth Centenary Award (1994–95) Indian Science Congress Association
1996 Honorary Professorship Delhi School of EconomicsUniversity of Delhi, Delhi
1997 Nikkei Asia prize for Regional Growth Nihon Keizai Shimbun Inc.
1997 Justice K.S. Hegde Foundation Award Justice K.S. Hegde Foundation
1997 Lokmanya Tilak Award Tilak Smarak Trust, Pune
1999 Fellow of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, New Delhi National Academy of Agricultural Sciences
1999 H.H. Kanchi Sri Paramacharya Award for Excellence Shri R. Venkataraman, The Centenarian Trust
2000 Annasaheb Chirmule Award Annasaheb Chirmule Trust
2002 Outstanding Parliamentarian Award Indian Parliamentary Group
2005 Honorary Fellowship All India Institute of Medical Sciences
2005 Top 100 Influential People in the World Time
2010 World Statesman Award Appeal of Conscience Foundation
2014 Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers Government of Japan