Taking on his critics for calling him a “silent PM”, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday said he was never afraid of putting his views across, including through media interactions.
Speaking at the launch of his book ‘Changing India’, Singh also voiced the need to respect the “autonomy and independence” of the Reserve Bank of India, and described the relation between the government and the RBI as one of a husband and wife.
On the criticism of being silent, Singh said: “People say I was a silent Prime Minister. I think these volumes speak for themselves. I would certainly like to say that I was not the Prime Minister who was afraid of talking to the press – I met the press regularly, and on every foreign trip I undertook, I had a press conference in the plane, or immediately after landing. So there are a large number of those press conferences whose results are also described (in the book).”
The five-volume book, which traverses his journey as an economist, policymaker and Prime Minister, speaks for the work he has done for the country, Singh said.
Recalling how he became the Finance Minister by “accident”, Singh said the then Prime Minister, P V Narasimha Rao, wanted economist I G Patel for the post but with Patel unwilling to take up the job, it came to him. “People say I was an accidental Prime Minister, but I was also an accidental Finance Minister,” he said in a lighter vein.
Singh said although governments have changed at the Centre, the broad thrust of India’s economic policy has remained the same, as was announced starting with reforms in 1991, when he was the Finance Minister.
With Rao’s support, Singh said, the government carried out far-reaching reforms (including a two-step devaluation of the rupee and industry policy changes) and bring the economy out of the balance of payments crisis. The government was able to implement reforms programmes which have changed the fortunes of the country, he said.
Recounting his tenure as the Union Finance Secretary, Singh said he was one of the few secretaries who kept his job despite a change in government.
On his life even as a student, Singh said while he took his matriculation exams in Peshawar in March 1947, the results could not be declared due to the Partition, and he had to sit for the exams again the following year after migrating to India.
Asked about the RBI and the government’s relationship, Singh said the country needs a “strong, independent RBI which has to work in close cooperation with the Central government”. He hoped that the two find ways to work together. “One has to respect the autonomy and independence of the RBI. At the same time, I would say the relation between government and RBI is like husband-wife relationship. There will be hiccups, there will be difference of opinion, but ultimately these must be harmonised in a manner that these two great institutions can work in harmony. Whosoever is Governor of RBI, I wish him well,” he said.