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Criticised by Rajiv and Crowned By Sonia, Will ‘Comeback Man’ Manmohan Singh Return to Parliament?

Will Manmohan Singh prove to be another “come back man?” The former prime minister is out of Parliament for the first time since 1991 but there is a strong possibility that the good doctor may find himself in the upper house for the sixth time with the support of the DMK in July.

Dr YK Alagh had once described Manmohan as most underrated politician and most overestimated economist. In the present day Congress, there is a near consensus that Manmohan is a politician among politicians that made him important for many prime minsters — Charan Singh, Indira Gandhi, Chandrashekhar and PV Narasimha Rao.

Interestingly, Sonia Gandhi’s trust in Manmohan was in sharp contrast to her husband Rajiv Gandhi’s rather dismissive outlook towards the economist. The year was 1985 when the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had taken a very urban-centric vision of development and restructuring of economy. Manmohan at that point of time was Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission and Rajiv as PM was its ex-officio Chairman.

CG Somiah, a former Union Home Secretary who retired as the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, has recorded a famous incident which has now faded away from public memory involving Dr Manmohan Singh and Rajiv Gandhi in his autobiography, ‘The Honest Always Stand Alone’ (Nyogi Books). Rajiv had described Planning Commission under Manmohan a ‘bunch of jokers’, who were bereft of any modern ideas of development.

Rajiv’s “bunch of jokers” remark had reportedly hurt Manmohan and the economist had contemplated to resign from the Planning Commission. But second thoughts reportedly prevailed.

Somiah claims he convinced Manmohan to stay on. “I sat with him (Manmohan) for nearly an hour and told him not to take the extreme step and blamed the Prime Minister’s ignorance for this behaviour. I further advised that since the Prime Minister was young and inexperienced, it was our duty to educate him rather than abandon him. I was finally able to convince him not to act hastily and that was my good deed for the day,” records Somiah in his autobiography.

But for economic journalist Vivek Kaul, a significant point about Manmohan came out that he did not quit even after the Prime Minister of the country had publicly called him a “Joker”. “What this tells us clearly is that Manmohan would rather continue and compromise with the prevailing state of affairs than make bold decisions,” Kaul observed in a column.

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