Dr. Manmohan Singh is the 17th and current Prime Minister of India. Singh is a member of the Indian National Congress party and became the first Sikh to become Prime Minister of India on May 22, 2004. He is one of the most qualified and influential figures in India`s recent history, because of the economic liberalisation he started in 1991 when he was Finance Minister. Manmohan Singh is an economist by profession, and has formerly served in the International Monetary Fund. Singh is also known to be an unassuming politician, enjoying a formidable, highly respected and admired image.
Due to his work at the UN, International Monetary Fund and other international bodies, he is very highly respected around the world. He was awarded the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award in 2002. Before becoming prime minister, he served as the finance minister under Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. He is widely credited for transforming the economy in the early 90s, during the financial crisis. He served as leader of the opposition, in the Upper house, from 1998 - 2004 when the Bharatiya Janata Party led coalition government was in office.
He was born on 26 September 1932, in Gah, Punjab (now in Punjab, Pakistan) into a Kohli family. Now it is a District City named Chakwal. His economics education included an undergraduate in1952 and a master`s degree in 1954 from Punjab University, Chandigarh; an undergraduate degree in 1957 from Cambridge University St. John`s College; and a doctorate in 1962 from Oxford University Nuffield College. Oxford University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree in June 2005. Dr. Singh has been married since 1958 he and his wife, Mrs. Gursharan Kaur, have three daughters.
Dr. Singh is widely regarded as the architect of India`s original economic reform programme which was enacted in 1991 under Rao`s administration. The economic liberalization package pushed by Singh and Rao opened the nation to foreign direct investment and reduced the red tape that had previously impeded business growth. The liberalization was prompted by an acute balance-of-payments crisis whereby the Indian government was left without sufficient reserves to meet its obligations, and had begun preparations to mortgage its gold reserves to the Bank of England in order to obtain the cash reserves needed to run the country. Singh served as the governor of the Reserve Bank of India in the late 1980s, and was elevated to finance minister in 1991 by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao.
Many see the 1991 liberalization as the first of a series of economic liberalizations throughout the 1990s and 2000s that have raised India`s growth rates substantially since the early 1990s. Despite its economic liberalization policies, Rao`s government was defeated in the next election. His economic policies, which included the gradual doing away of several socialist policies were popular, especially among the middle class. He enjoys strong support among the middle and educated classes of India due to his educational background. Manmohan Singh lost his seat in the Lok Sabha from South Delhi in 1999. He is thus the only Indian Prime Minister never to have been an elected member of the Lower House of Parliament. He has been a member of the Rajya Sabha for Assam since 1991. He is a native Punjabi language speaker.
Dr. Singh stayed with the Congress Party despite continuous marginalization and defeats in the elections of 1996, 1998 and 1999. He did not join the rebels in a major split which occurred in 1999, when three Congress leaders objected to Sonia Gandhi`s rise as Congress President and Leader of the Opposition.
The Congress alliance won a surprisingly high number of seats in the Parliamentary elections of 2004. The Left Front decided to support a Congress alliance government from outside. Sonia Gandhi was elected leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party and was expected to become the Prime Minister. In an unexpected move, she declined to accept the post and instead nominated Manmohan Singh. Singh secured the nomination for prime minister on May 19, 2004 when President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam officially asked him to form a government. Although most expected him to head the Finance Ministry himself, he entrusted the job to P. Chidambaram.
Achievements as Prime Minister
Singh`s image is of a formidable intellectual, a political leader of integrity (a prevalent public perception denounces most national bureaucracies as corrupt and tainted), someone who is compassionate and attentive to common people, and as a recognised technocrat. Although legislative achievements have been few and the Congress-led alliance is routinely hampered by conflicts, Singh`s administration has focused on reducing the fiscal deficit, providing debt-relief to poor farmers, extending social programs and advancing the pro-industry economic and tax policies that have launched the country on a major economic expansion course since 2002. Singh has been the image of the Congress campaign to defuse religious tensions and conflicts and bolster political support from minorities like Muslims and Christians.
The Prime Minister`s foreign policy has been to continue the new peace process with Pakistan initiated by his predecessor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Exchange visits by top leaders from both countries have highlighted this year, as has reduced terrorism and increased prosperity in the state of Kashmir. The peace process has also been used by the government to build stronger relations with the United States, China and European nations.
Dr. Singh is known as a bold leader. He made it clear in his address to Parliament in 2006 regarding his Nuclear Deal with US. He said he believed in taking India to new heights. Energy scarcity is hampering progress of the country. The speech gave signal of a new Manmohan Singh, who compelled his fellow parliamentarians to take a step forward for India`s sake. He reminded them of the fears and anxities that existed when he announced reforms in the early 1990s. Finally, the whole parliament, including the leftists, gave him support on the nuclear issue.