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Manmohan Singh

India's fourteenth Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh is a thinker and a scholar. He is well regarded for his diligence and his academic approach to work, as well as his accessibility and his unassuming demeanor. In what was to become the turning point in the economic history of independent India, Dr. Singh spent five years between 1991 and 1996 as India's Finance Minister when Congress Party was in power under Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. His role in ushering in a comprehensive policy of economic reforms is now recognized worldwide. In the popular view of those years in India, that period is inextricably associated with the persona of Dr. Singh.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was born on September 26, 1932, in a village in the Punjab province of undivided India. Dr. Singh completed his Matriculation examinations from the Panjab University in 1948. His academic career took him from Punjab to the University of Cambridge, UK, where he earned a First Class Honours degree in Economics in 1957. Dr. Singh followed this with a D.Phil in Economics from Nuffield College at Oxford University in 1962. His book, "India's Export Trends and Prospects for Self-Sustained Growth" [Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1964] was an early critique of India's inward-oriented trade policy.

Dr. Singh's academic credentials were burnished by the years he spent on the faculty of Punjab University and the prestigious Delhi School of Economics. He had a brief stint at the UNCTAD Secretariat as well, during these years. This presaged a subsequent appointment as Secretary General of the South Commission in Geneva between 1987 and 1990.

In 1971, Dr. Singh joined the Government of India as Economic Advisor in the Commerce Ministry. This was soon followed by his appointment as Chief Economic Advisor in the Ministry of Finance in 1972. Among the many Governmental positions that Dr. Singh has occupied are Secretary in the Ministry of Finance; Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission; Governor of the Reserve Bank of India; Advisor of the Prime Minister; and Chairman of the University Grants Commission.

In his political career, Dr. Singh has been a Member of India's Upper House of Parliament (the Rajya Sabha) since 1991, where he was Leader of the Opposition between 1998 and 2004.

The ruling BJP-led coalition was defeated in a five-stage election held in April and May of 2004. The party did not name a candidate for the prime minister's post before the elections, saying they would choose one after the polls. Initially it seemed that Sonia Gandhi, the 57-year-old widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, a Christian who was born in Italy, was a strong possibility to serve as prime minister of this predominately-Hindu nation. As the widow of the assassinated prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, many Indians regard her as heir to the Gandhi political dynasty. But to others she is unacceptable, because of her foreign birth. On 15 May 2004 newly-elected Congress Party lawmakers chose Sonia Gandhi as their leader, seeming to assure that a foreign-born woman will become the next prime minister of the world's largest democracy. But on 18 May 2004 Sonia Gandhi declined to become the country's next prime minister following outrage on the part of Hindu nationalists over the prospect of having a foreign-born prime minister. Her decision stunned her party and its allies. India's former finance minister Manmohan Singh was now the leading contender for the post. A Congress-led coalition, known as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), took power on May 22 with Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister. The UPA's victory was attributed to dissatisfaction among poorer rural voters that the prosperity of the cities had not filtered down to them, and rejection of the BJP's Hindu nationalist agenda.

Mr. Singh, who became India's first Sikh prime minister in the predominantly Hindu nation, pledged that his government would ensure harmony between India's religious communities. Although Singh is a common Sikh surname, neither Charan Singh, who was Prime Minister in 1979-1980, nor V.P. Singh, who was Prime Minister in 1989-1990, were Sikhs.

The Congress-led UPA government continued many of the BJP's foreign policies, particularly with regard to improving relations with the US. Prime Minister Singh and President Bush concluded a landmark U.S.-India framework agreement on strategic partnership on July 18, 2005, and both countries are now working to implement this historic understanding. In March 2006, President Bush made a reciprocal visit to India to further the many initiatives that underlie the strategic partnership.

On 22 May 2009, Manmohan Singh took the oath of office as prime minister of India for a second term after his Congress Party's victory in India's 15th parliamentary election. He is the first prime minister since India's independence leader, Jawaharlal Nehru, to be re-elected after serving a full five-year term. The Congress party in India returned to power with a larger share of the vote in the recent parliamentary elections than indicated by pre-election and exit polls. Communist parties, which tried to block the U.S.-India nuclear deal last year, and the right wing Bhartiya Janata Party, the BJP, which attacked the Congress party during the election campaign for being too close to the United States, were both rejected by Indian voters. This had significance for the future of US-India relations. Much of the rhetoric in the campaign by the Communists on the left and by the BJP was to the effect that Congress and Prime Minister Singh was too close to the United States. The increase in support of the prime minister's party is an indication that most Indian voters were not of that view, and that they welcome a closer relationship with the United States.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:43:01 ZULU