As finance minister in the early 1990s under Narasimha Rao, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is credited with kick-starting India’s economic boom. But the squeaky-clean father of three also has the reputation of lacking authority. His government was given stability by the protective hand of the charismatic leader of Congress, Sonia Gandhi, but this also prevented it from developing its own style. Now, the 76-year-old Singh, who unexpectedly became premier, is seeking another term and wants to win on his own merits.
Manmohan Singh has a reputation of being squeaky-clean and lacking authority
It is often said that Manmohan Singh is a bad speaker because he has a somewhat thin and high voice. But he is praised for being a conscientious politician who gets things done. He has successfully overcome many crises during his five years in office.
In December 2004, the tsunami cost an estimated 15,000 Indian lives. India surprisingly announced that it would deal with the disaster on its own. The domestic media welcomed this announcement. Finally, they said, an end to India’s “receiver mentality”, which had made the country so dependent on the wealth of other countries.
Last year, Singh faced a vote of confidence over the controversial US-India nuclear deal that ended India’s 30-year nuclear isolation. In November, he had to tackle a national crisis during a three-day siege on Mumbai in which over 160 people lost their lives.
Singh’s crisis management skills are viewed positively
Christian Wagner, an India expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, has a positive opinion of Singh’s crisis management skills: “I think that he threw his own personal weight into the Indian-American nuclear deal. That will surely earn him a place in the history books.“
“His reaction to the Mumbai attacks was also not bad. We didn’t see yet another troop build-up. India used the international attention very cleverly to put more diplomatic pressure on Pakistan and to demand an explanation:“
In recent years, India has enjoyed an average annual economic growth of about 9 percent. But India has not been spared by the global economic slowdown. Nonetheless, 5 percent growth is expected for the coming year.
But the economic boom has not benefitted India’s rural communities much. 70 percent of India’s population is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture. According to the World Bank, some 27 percent of Indians live on less than a dollar a day. Thousands of farmers have committed suicide.
Promises to develop agricultural sector
In August 2007, on the 60th anniversary of Indian independence, Prime Minister Singh made several promises: “In the coming years, our attention will be focussed on developing the agricultural sector. I will make sure that the income of my brothers in agriculture increases and that farmers all over India can better reap the fruit of their harvests. I will put 250 billion rupees aside for this programme.“
Rural votes have been crucial for past parliamentary election victories. Political expert Salma Bava from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi says right now it is difficult to estimate Singh’s popularity: “It is true that over two-thirds of the people live in rural areas. Manmohan Singh has tried to change a lot for these people. But people are not voting only for Manmohan Singh but for a party also and the party’s reputation is crucial.”
“In states where Congress is already in power and is doing good work, Congress will obviously do better. But there can be no guarantee that all the problems will just disappear into thin air if he wins.”
If Singh wins the parliamentary elections, it will be his own victory and not just a gift from Sonia Gandhi.