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The waves

As the Wind Blows

Location: Chennai, Tamilnadu, India

21 May 2004

The person that Dr. Manmohan Singh is

I was in Delhi at that time when I met him on two occasions in 1999, in the course of my work as a journalist. I was contributing to Tamil Weekly Kunkumam from Delhi.

Once I did an exclusive interview and another time I trailed his campaign in the 1999 General Elections. He lost that election; but his personality sparkled during those meetings, which seemed significant than the poll results – at least I felt so.

During that free wheeling interview, he gave a glimpse into his way of life, his philosophy and his idea of governance. And I have given some excerpts from the interview, translated from Tamil, to get a peep into his persona:

Asked about his vision for India, he responded optimistically. “ Whether Indians have faith in God or not; I don’t know; But God still has some faith in India. While civilizations across the world are wiped out over a period, our Indian civilisation, which is over 5000 years, has stood the test of time and is still vibrant. This is what gives me hope that God has not yet given up on India.” He believes in the dictum of Bhagavd Gita, “ To do one’s duty without the expectations of the results” and says that the dictum has been his guiding light on many occasions. “In fact all our Indian scriptures, including our Guru Granth emphasize this philosophy” he observed.

When I asked him where would his emphasis be if he prepared the budget, he immediately said that he would lay emphasis on reinforcing the confidence of the people in their country. “ What is essential today is to revive the people’s confidence, in themselves; on the country and on the government.”

All right. How would he do it?

“ Why, undoubtedly my first job would be to reduce inflation. It is the duty of the Finance Minister to ensure that inflation doesn’t hurt the common man, even as he implements plans which are focused on improving the economy. Some people argue that high inflation is the price we pay for a robust economy. I don’t agree with this. It is important to bring down the inflation.”

What kindled his interest in economics was “ Our India”, the book written by Minoo Masani. Manmohan Singh’s father wanted him to study for medicine and he had also joined a medical college. But somehow he realized that economics was his forte and not medicine and made the switch.

He feels highly indebted to society at large. “ Since most of my education was funded by one or the other scholarship, I feel I have to give back something to the society. Although I have had several offers from abroad, I feel India is my place. In general, life has given me everything that is good. I am contented with my life. There is no sense of want in my life now.”

Other snippets from the interview: Amartya Sen was his senior in Cambridge. Besides economics, his interests pan reading ( politics, history, biographies etc), Classical Music ( Among his favorites, MS.Subbulakshmi tops the list), appreciates the simplicity of South Indians, enjoys south Indian Food(“ it is tasty and has varieties too” ).

In the campaign trail, he came across as your next door neighbour. There were songs and dances by the party workers as he moved from house to house in his constituency – South Delhi. As he moved along with the campaigning crowd with folded hands, he actually looked lost. He had that look of “ ugh! how- did- I- get- into- this-mumbo –jumbo”. ( Did I hear some one say that he still has that look ?!) When there was confusion among party workers about the route or any other aspects of campaigning, he stood aside silently and watched them sort out among themselves. He was not overbearing or threw his weight around. Absolutely lacking the “politician” air !

However he was co-operating completely as the party workers wanted him to. When the crowd got beyond control, when they literally held his hands and took him to some other direction – another house or a gurudhwara, he smilingly obliged without making any fuss. He was a green horn in electioneering, but the public didn’t seem to mind that. “ He is one sane man in today’s rotten politics” said one bystander and another extolled his honesty and simplicity. A shop keeper remembered him as the person who put Indian economy back on the wheels.

Lack of mass base is one drawback pointed out about him in politics. But I think it is his sense of humility that keeps him back from projecting himself as the leader of the mass. I hope his performance would speak for himself in future and bring about that mass base also.


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