Friday, Dec 02, 2022

Manmohan Singh, 14th Prime Minister of India, architect of economic reforms

Heading the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for a total of 3,656 days, Singh thus became the third longest-serving PM till date after Jawaharlal Nehru (6,130 days) and Indira Gandhi (5,829 days).

A Congress leader from the Sikh community, Manmohan Singh also became the first PM of the country from a minority community. (Express Photo by Prem Nath Pandey)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has completed eight years in office, recently hinted that he was ready for a third term. Speaking virtually at a meeting in Bharuch where beneficiaries of various central government schemes were assembled, he said a “very senior” Opposition leader had once asked him what else was left for him to accomplish after becoming the PM twice. Modi said he would not rest till “100 per cent” coverage of government schemes was achieved in the country.

Modi, 71, is first PM so far to be born after Independence. In the course of over seven decades, the country has seen 15 Prime Ministers, over a journey marked with social, political and economic changes. The Indian Express looks at India’s parliamentary democracy through the tenures of its PMs.


Dr Manmohan Singh, who served as the 14th Prime Minister of India, is widely acknowledged as the architect of economic reforms in the country.

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Singh, who was sworn in as the PM on May 22, 2004, remained in office for two consecutive terms till May 26, 2014. Heading the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for a total of 3,656 days, Singh thus became the third longest-serving PM till date after Jawaharlal Nehru (6,130 days) and Indira Gandhi (5,829 days).

A Congress leader from the Sikh community, Singh also became the first PM of the country from a minority community.

Born on September 26, 1932, at Gah village in West Punjab (now in Pakistan), Singh got his Master’s degree in economics from Panjab University, Chandigarh, and a doctorate from the University of Oxford.

Manmohan Singh with Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. (Express Photo by Prem Nath Pandey)

Singh had a long and distinguished innings in the government. He began his career as the economic advisor to the ministry of foreign trade in 1971 during the Indira Gandhi government. A year later, he was appointed the chief economic advisor in the ministry of finance, where he served till 1976.


During 1976-80, he served in various capacities including as director, Reserve Bank of India (RBI); director, Industrial Development Bank; Alternate Governor of India, Board of Governors, Asian Development Bank, Manila; and Alternate Governor of India, Board of Governors, International Bank of Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). During the same period, he also served as the secretary, department of economic affairs, ministry of finance, and member finance at the Atomic Energy Commission and the Space Commission.

During the Indira regime, Singh was given responsibility as the member-secretary of the then Planning Commission, a formidable PM-headed body. He held this post from April 1980 to September 1982, when he was appointed as the RBI Governor, where he served till January, 1985. During 1983-85, he also served as a member at the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister.

After Indira Gandhi’s assassination, when Rajiv Gandhi became the PM, he appointed Singh as the deputy chairman, Planning Commission, where he served from January 1985 to July 1987.


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In August 1987, Singh became the Secretary-General and Commissioner, South Commission, Geneva and served there till November 1990.

When India was going through an unprecedented economic crisis in 1990-91, then Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar asked for Singh’s advice and appointed him as the advisor to the PM on economic affairs. Simultaneously, he also held the post of the chairman, University Grant Commission. However, the Chandra Sekhar government lasted for a brief period.

When the P V Narasimha Rao-led Congress government was formed in June 1991, Rao appointed Singh as the finance minister.

Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao with Pranab Mukherjee, Sharad Pawar and Manmohan Singh among others at Planning Commission meeting in New Delhi. (Express archives)

In his stellar stint as the finance minister, Singh ushered in major economic reforms in the country. Presenting his first budget, he invoked French writer Victor Hugo’s famous quote stating that “No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come”. He then said, “The emergence of India as a major economic power in the world happens to be one such idea. Let the whole world hear it loud and clear. India is now wide awake. We shall prevail. We shall overcome.”


When Singh was appointed as the FM, he was not a member of either House of Parliament. It was in October 1991 that he was elected as a Rajya Sabha member. He was re-elected as a Rajya Sabha member in June 1995. After the Rao government’s tenure came to an end following the Congress party’s defeat in the 1996 general elections, Singh became a member of various parliamentary committees.

During the Atal Bihari Vajpayee gpvernent’s tenure, Singh served as the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha between March 1998 and May 2004. In the 1999 polls, he contested from the South Delhi parliamentary constituency but lost to the BJP’s Vijay Kumar Malhotra. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha (his third term) in June 2001.


In the 2004 polls, the Vajpayee-led NDA lost and the Congress emerged as the single largest party (145 seats). The Sonia Gandhi-led Congress then formed the UPA coalition and named Singh as its choice for the PM’s post.

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On May 22, 2004, Singh took oath as the PM and completed his first term in May 2009. His government faced various challenges, especially in July 2008 when the CPI(M)-led Left parties, which were supporting the UPA government from outside, threatened to bring it down over India’s civil nuclear deal with the United States. They even moved a no-confidence motion, which the Manmohan government won.

During his second term as the PM, Singh remained in office from May 22, 2009 to May 26, 2014. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress was however decimated and the BJP got the full majority.

During his two prime ministerial innings, Singh got elected to the Rajya Sabha from Assam – in 2007 (his fourth RS term) and 2013 (fifth RS term). In August 2019, he was elected to the Upper House from Rajasthan.

First published on: 31-05-2022 at 09:36:50 pm
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