Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dr. Manmohan Singh - A Role Model



(Chamber of Admissions Dean, BITS Pilani. )

Enter Prof. X, Prof. Y, Prof. Z, STUDENT

Prof. Y: Tell us someone whom you consider a role model.

(Awkward silence)

STUDENT: (Nervous) Pardon?

Prof. X: Who is your role model?

STUDENT: Lalu Prasad Yadav.

(Thunder strikes in the distance. Curtains dance under the influence of wind gushing in through the windows. )

Prof. Z: What?

Prof. Y: What?

Prof. X: What?

(Student scratches his head. Bites his finger. Swallows the bile juice back. Hopes to get swallowed by the earth.)

It was one of those few moments when I could hear myself speak; when suddenly my mouth was no longer under my control. The interview was for selection of top 20 candidates for applying in the prestigious Aditya Birla Scholarship (the interview was conducted due to the ambiguity of status of ranking of board toppers in the application process). Here in front of me were some of the most reputed professors of the institute and I had to justify in the next few seconds as to why I considered Lalu as my role model. I took a deep breath and conjured an answer. I told them about seeing a documentary on Lalu which showed how he rose from being the son of a farmer to becoming the railway minister of India. This reply did keep them from probing me further; however I had stumped myself for sure. No offence Lalu, but you are not good enough to be my role model. That day marked the beginning of my silent leisurely quest on finding a role model.

Over the past few years nobody seemed to fill that spot. I had nightmares of being asked the same question again in some interview. However, over the past few days, I found my answer in the form of Dr. Manmohan Singh.

Till a little time back I used to consider him Sonia’s side-kick. A puppet Prime Minister. I had heard about his stint in the finance ministry in the early 90s however it never caught my attention much. However my recent penchant for knowledge, soul searching and random wikiing during my practice school semester made me stumble across the Wikipedia entry on economic crisis which India faced in the early 90s and the start of liberalization.

Let me tell you the story of India. A story of rags to possible riches.

Just before Manmohan Singh took charge of country’s wallet, Republic of India was on the brink of bankruptcy. The fiscal deficit was as high as 12.7% of the GDP. Our foreign reserves were barely enough to pay for 3 weeks’ worth of imports. A timely intervention of IMF (in lieu of gold) saved our neck. In return for 67 tons(!!!!) of gold, we received a loan of $2.2 billion. The then government, led by Chandrashekhar, which took the loans and sold everything we had, lost its power in the center within few months. The elections took place in the month of May and June 1991 which was marred by the death of Rajiv Gandhi after the first round of polling. The congress won the elections and Narsimha Rao was brought back in the party from a near retirement. He became the Prime Minister of India amidst the death of Rajiv Gandhi and a crippled economy.

This was the point where Narsimha Rao took a brave decision of keeping the seat of finance minister out of the hand of any political big shot. He requested IG Patel, ex-governer of RBI and the then director of London School of Economics and Political Science to take over the finance ministry. But he declined. He chose Dr. Manmohan Singh as his next option. When he offered this post to Dr. Singh, he was surprised and confused at the same time. His colleagues tried convincing him that the prime minister is looking for a future scapegoat. In an interview he once said:

“I'd held all the top civil service jobs, but here was an opportunity to play a political role, and there was an odd chance that we would make a success of it, in which case I would have a footnote in India's history. If I fail, that's of no great consequence. And who fails if India wins?”

He took over as the finance minister of India on 21 June 1991. He had a task of a surgeon who had to treat a patient’s abdomen which had been messed up by a novice intern. However he took it up as a challenge and an excuse for change.

He initiated a shift in the economy from a Nehruvian Socialism to a Pro Capitalist philosophy. License Raj was given a pink slip. The government decided to gradually move out from businesses where it was unnecessarily existent. It paved way for a red tape free Foreign Direct Investment in many sectors. The impact of this was such that the FDI increased from US$132 million in 1991–92 to $5.3 billion in 1995–96. We made our markets open for the global game. Urbanization was put on a fast track. The unprecedented growth of tier 2 cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune etc was a side effect of this treatment.

He has been accused of not repeating the magic in his tenure as PM. This might be partially true. However the way in which he fought for the Nuclear Bill has proved once again that no matter how mild he might sound, here is one man, who likes to play rough.

The thing which makes him adorable is his humility. He neither has the haughty air of a premier of a country nor does he have a know-it-all attitude of a scholar. He is one person who excelled in what he did. Be it education, teaching or the government, he was a source of inspiration to all. Recently he was among the most powerful people of 2010 list of Forbes. He was also listed as “The Leader other leaders love” in their list of 10 respected world leaders by Newsweek.

I don’t consider myself his ardent fan. I might not agree to his political opinion. However, I admire him for his willingness to move out of his comfort zone and venturing into an unsafe zone (the political jungle). I am also fond of his serene smile.

So next time when someone asks me who my role model is, I would reply – Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of my country who took the energy problem of my country by its horn, a finance minister who took my country out of global shame, an economist who left the comfort of best universities of the world to come back to India to serve the Indian academia and then the government machinery, a student who studied under a lamp, lost his mother early in his life, bore the pains of relocation due to partition, walked kilometers for water and still had the audacity to pursue education at the centers of excellence and a man who is humble enough to still own a Maruti 800.

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