Monday, Apr. 18, 2005

Manmohan Singh

Can an astute economist, a famous professor and a superb civil servant also be an outstanding Prime Minister? Can someone without a populist political base be secure as the head of a democratic government? Can a country in which more than 80% of the people are Hindus be comfortable with a blue-turbaned Sikh Prime Minister in addition to a Muslim President and a Christian leader of the ruling party? If the answer to all those questions is yes (as seems plausible enough), that says something not only about the nature of India but also about Manmohan Singh's deep humanity and breadth of vision, which inspire widespread confidence.

As Finance Minister in the early- to mid-'90s, Singh, 72, was the pioneering leader of India's economic reforms, which restrained the all-powerful Indian bureaucrat, and sought—and found—a significant place for India in the global economy. And yet, given the asymmetric sharing of the fruits of expansion, the subsequent government's proud but insensitive slogan, "India shining," was a peculiarly divisive theme. Who better, then, than the architect of the pro-market reforms to take the country's reins and emphasize the need for a less unequal distribution, and the urgency of supplementing a flourishing market economy by strengthening social services and the societal infrastructure.

The man in the blue turban, despite his great success, has remained approachable and ready to listen and instinctively sympathetic to the underdogs of society.

Sen's new book, The Argumentative Indian, will be published in June

From the Archive
India's Election: The world's largest democracy opts for change