(1932– ) Indian prime minister
India’s 14th prime minister since independence in 1947, Manmohan Singh was born on September 26, 1932, in the Punjab before the partition of the subcontinent. Singh graduated from Punjab University in 1948 and attended Cambridge University in Britain, earning a First Class Honours degree in economics in 1957. He continued with his graduate studies at Oxford University and achieved a doctorate in economics in 1962. He returned to India, lecturing at Punjab University and at the Delhi School of Economics. In 1971 he joined the Indian civil service as an economic adviser in the commerce ministry. His talents were quickly rewarded, and he was appointed chief economic adviser in the ministry of finance in 1972.
Singh made the transition from bureaucrat to politician in 1991 when he was appointed a member of India’s upper house of parliament (the Rajya Sabha). While a member of the upper house between 1991 and 1996, he also became the finance minister in Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao’s government. With Rao’s support, he initiated successful economic reforms aimed at slashing India’s infamous red tape, enhancing productivity, and liberalizing the economy. His goals were to end protectionism and open the Indian economy to foreign investment so that India would evolve to a mixed economy saving it from the verge of bankruptcy. As a result the economy became reinvigorated, inflation was controlled, and Indian industry began to show signs of strength.
Singh’s political career was turbulent because he was neither charismatic nor a traditional politician. He lost the only time he contested a parliamentary election for the lower house (Lok Sabha). From 1998 to 2004 he was leader of the opposition but became prime minister in May 2004 when the Congress Party won a coalition majority in the national election. This is because Sonia Gandhi turned down the prime ministership. Singh became India’s first Sikh prime minister. This is impressive due to the troubled relationship between India’s Sikhs and the Hindu majority during the 1980s. (In 1984 government forces stormed the sacred Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar to root out Sikh militants. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards avenged this act by assassinating her months later.)
Although governing such a diverse nation as India with a coalition is difficult, during his first two years in office Singh achieved a measure of success. The Indian economy continued to grow at an impressive rate. The fractured relationship with Pakistan showed signs of slowly improving, although the deeper issue of who controls Kashmir remained unresolved. Equally as important, political and trade relations with the United States improved considerably.
The government also spearheaded a massive project aimed at eradicating rural poverty. In large part due to Singh’s reforms and pragmatic managerial style, India’s economy continued to expand and under his government, showed signs of emerging as a global economic power.
See also Gandhi, Rajiv, and Sonia S.