PM’s loss of face, a pity! PM must have educated the people and the allies about his core economic vision and his basic beliefs in economic reforms. This he had failed to do and the consequences for the image of the country, than for his personal stakes, is much more serious. Will the UPA retrieve the lost ground or will it lead up to early mid-term polls? PM’s NLC, NALCO disinvestment fiasco proved a great embarrassment to the PM’s credibility as an architect of economic reforms. Dr.Manmohan Singh is an internationally respected economist. This enviable reputation had had earned with his innate abilities and also an astute management of his skills in economic analysis as well as his management of every opportunity that came his way.
As the ultimate prize came the opportunity to serve as the Prime Minister of India. By all accounts, this has been a success story unlike any other. There have been great many Indians who have spent their life time in politics but the ultimate prizes, be it Cabinet Ministers or Prime Ministers don’t come that much easily. But today we have seen politics is so changed that even the sons of regional politicians just bag the Cabinet minister’s posts by virtue of being the sons of regional bosses who keep the coalitions at the Centre. By this development or developments, we find Dr.Singh also becoming the PM without firing a shot so to say!
Now, Dr.Singh, after two fairly successful years, had found himself badly hurt by certain events. The Bihar Assembly dissolution, office of profit Bill, also is very much a risky venture. It could still trip him. The OBC quota is also a potential bomshell. But suddenly, almost out of the blue, came the disinvestment of NLC and Nalco. That just saw the DMK chieftain, Mr.M.Karunanidhi indulging in a bit blackmailing! That was perhaps the unkindest of cuts Dr.Singh might have expected.
So, what is the future of the PM’s continuation in office? There was this rumour to that effect that he might go and the Congress party desparately, more than the party, the president Sonia Gandhi needs him badly. Otherwise, she might lose the crown almost forever!
So, how long a PM with the reputation of an economic expert as Dr.Singh had earned can go on like this? It is a very delicate issue and one on which not many may be willing to comment. As for me I too have some delicate aspects to comment on Dr.Singh whom I know from my Oxford time. He was a PhD scholar at Nuffield while I was doing my undergraduate course in economics(PPE).I did study economics in some depth and if I had chosen the path chosen by fellow Indians, as done by Prof.Amartya Sen, Jagadish Bhagawati(who was also with Dr.Singh at Nuffield in my time)and many others, known and unknown. The point is that in my time economists were very much in favour in India under Nehru and there were some really brilliant economists making news.
Dr.K.N.Raj (whose lectures at Oxford I attended for a few days), Sukhomoy Charavarthi, Dr.V.K.R.V.Rao (the list is rather too long) very seriously as they were all associated with the government as well with academic institutions. I studied earlier at Santiniketan and as such I was also witness to the emergence of Sen and Chakravarthi, as the most promising young economic students from the Presidency College, Kolkatta. They just faded away without a trace! That is the price one has to pay for seeking security of service. Otherwise, how can you have economists who were serving Socialism, Emergency, Marxism and now neo-liberalism, all the same persons!
One exception was P.C.Mahalanobis, the statistician and economist who drew up the Second Five Year Plan. I had seen him speak at Santiniketan, with Nehru beside him and I admired greatly, his patriotism and faith in economic planning inspired us, the students.
At Oxford in those times we had other brilliant minds. In this place, I like to mention one name that of N.Raghavan Iyer, who was a Rhodes Scholar and he also, became President of the Oxford Union, besides being a clever economist. I met him many times and I was almost in awe about him, as he was perhaps the most all-rounded Oxford product I had met. He told me, not once but many times, that he just missed the Fellowship of the All Souls, the ultimate prize for any Oxonian and he talked so much and so well, he imagined himself in the mould of a junior Radhakrishnan. He was quite patriotic and he wanted to do much for India and we all expected great things from him. I wanted to imitate him and so I went to the Union and participated in the Union Debate and busied myself in a variety of activities. Iyer was married into a prominent Gujarati family and so it was just a matter of time to reach the highest offices in India, I thought.
So I thought he would become one of the typical high profile government servants, as so many of the previous Rhodes Scholars had all became. He did come back to India and worked for sometime at the Planning Commission. But alas, I didn’t hear about him for most of the time till I read about his passing away in the USA as an academic. The point is that after their initial glories, most of these economists went into oblivion. Just because Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize he is talked about, otherwise, his theories too would have been of interest only for the few. We should remember that most of the recent Nobel Prize winners in economics have been disasters, their theories led to company collapses! Economics is not an art or a science. It is also much about wisdom, some core beliefs in the broader systems of economics and politics. It is still a political economy, politics and economics combined!
Now, where Dr.Singh scored over others is the fact he became a bureaucrat and his career was steady here. He joined the Indira Gandhi establishment under P.N.Haksar and he, sorry to say, imbibed the authoritarian culture and from that time onwards he was in every political establishment. So, we have to be a bit more honest and also objective enough to see that Dr.Singh had never articulated his basic economic beliefs in any of the major areas. He just sticks to the standard jargon of percentage of economic growth, budget deficit and inflation. Anyway, the fiasco made a dent in the credibility of the government and shows India and its governance system in poor light in the eyes of the world.