Manmohan Singh (26 Sep 1932 - present)
Manmohan Singh is the 14th and current Prime Minister of India. Regarded by some as the "most educated" Indian Prime Minister in history, Singh is a member of the Indian National Congress party, and became the first Sikh Prime Minister of India on May 22, 2004. He is considered one of the most qualified and influential figures in India's recent history, mainly because of the economic reforms he had initiated in 1991 when he was Finance Minister under Prime Minister Narasimha Rao.
Early lifeHe was born on 26 September 1932, in Gah, Punjab (now in Chakwal District, Pakistan). He has an Undergraduate (1952) and a Master's degree (1954) from Panjab University, Chandigarh; an Undergraduate degree (1957) from Cambridge University (St. John's College) and a D.Phil (1962) from Oxford University (Nuffield College). The University of Oxford awarded him an honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree in June 2005, and in October 2006, the University of Cambridge followed with the same honour.
Singh married Gursharan Kaur in 1958, and they have three daughters.
Political careerSingh, an economist by profession, worked for the International Monetary Fund in his younger days. Dr. Singh is 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 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 Narasimha Rao. He is credited with transforming the economy in the early 1990s during the financial crisis. He served as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha (upper house) from March 1998 to May 2004, when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government was in office.
His economic policies - which included getting rid of several socialist policies, especially the License Raj - were popular. He enjoys strong support among the middle classes of India due to his education. Singh lost the election in the Lok Sabha from South Delhi constituency in the 1999 general elections. He is thus the only Indian Prime Minister never to have been an elected member of the Lower House of Parliament. In fact he has not won a direct election. He has been a member of the Rajya Sabha from Assam since 1995. He was re-elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2001 and 2007.
Economic reforms and ascent to powerSingh served as Governor of the Reserve Bank of India from 1982 to 1985, and was hand picked as finance minister in cabinet of then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in 1991.
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. The liberalization was prompted by an acute balance-of-payments crisis whereby the Indian government, left without sufficient reserves to meet its obligations, 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.
Many see the 1991 liberalization as the first of a series of economic restructuring efforts throughout the 1990s and 2000s that have raised India's growth rates to amongst highest in world. Despite its liberal economic policies, Rao's government was voted out in the next general election in 1996.
Opposition and 2004 electionSingh became leader of opposition in upper house of Indian Parliament, and stayed with the Congress Party during a major split in 1999, when three senior Congress leaders objected to Sonia Gandhi's rise as Congress President. Being touted as the Congress choice for the PM's job, Gandhi had become a target of nationalists who objected to her Italian birth.
An alliance led by the Congress Party won a surprisingly high number of seats in the Parliamentary elections of 2004. The Left Front decided to support a coalition government led by the Congress Party from the outside. Sonia Gandhi was elected leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party and was expected to become the Prime Minister. In a surprise move, she declined to accept the post and instead nominated Dr. Singh. He secured the nomination for prime minister on May 19, 2004 when the then 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.
His appointment is notable as it comes 20 years after India witnessed significant tensions between the Indian central government and the Punjabi Sikh community. After Congress Party Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the mother-in-law of Sonia Gandhi, ordered central government troops to storm the Golden Temple (the holiest site of Sikhism) in Amritsar, Punjab to quell a separatist movement, she was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. The result was a genocidal campaign against Sikhs and many innocent Sikhs lost their lives during riots promoted by the Congress Party immediately after the assassination.
Singh's image is generally regarded as intellectual, honest but cautious, attentive to working class people (on whose votes he was elected), and technocratic. 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, Christians and Sikhs.
His government has endeavored to build stronger relations with the United States, the People's Republic of China and European nations. The Government suffered a setback when it lost the support of a key ally, several African Union members, for its bid for a permanent membership to the U.N. Security Council with veto privileges. One of the biggest achievements of Manmohan Singh's Government has been a nuclear deal between India and the U.S.A. Under Dr. Singh, an economist and Finance minister P. Chidambaram, India's economic growth has continued, with the GDP growing at a very fast rate of 9%. This has resulted in India becoming a trillion dollar economy.