Manmohan Singh served as the Prime Minister of India for two full terms from 2004 to 2014. He came with an incredible reputation as a reformer and no body had better economics credentials than him. A lifelong bureaucrat, who had served in all the top economic jobs, was inducted in 1991 by Prime Minister Narasimhan Rao as his finance minister to lead his economic liberalization program. He was given full credit for the 1991 reform, even though there were no further reforms during the rest of the tenure.
There were no reforms at at all during his prime ministerial tenure. He talked about inclusive growth while enjoying the momentum created by Vajpayee’s reforms. The biggest program created during his term was the NREGA, which was an old fashioned redistribution boondoggle. The road building program came to screeching halt too. The Telecom policy was turned on its head when the revenue share model got replaced with spectrum sale, which resulted in massive corruption. The original goal of the revenue share was to prevent this source of corruption. There was scandal galore during his term. His pristine reputation was fully tarnished. With no new reforms, I can’t think of any, and no privatization of public sector companies, the growth rate steadily declined. Further tax terrorism during his tenure, dried up FDI.
Manmohan Singh turned out to be a total disappointment. He was made the prime minister by Sonia Gandhi and he felt beholden to her. He also was never able to assert his leadership in the cabinet. I am told by a source that he called Pranab Mukherji “sir” in the very first cabinet meeting. Pranab never accepted him as his boss. Even after 2009 elections, when he had the moral authority to assert himself, he refused to do it. As a matter of fact Rahul Gandhi treated him with contempt, both in word and deed.
I consider his 10 years as the PM as wasted years for India. China pulled ahead while India languished. For this I rate him as one of the worst, if not the worst, prime minister of India. I rate him 1 on the scale of 1 to 10.
Atal Bihai Vajpayee was the Prime Minister of India from 1998 to 2004. In my opinion he was the best Prime Minister India has had. He was at the head of a coalition (NDA) and had to depend on his allies to execute. His Raj Dharma and coalition Dharma policies were very successful. He served a full term without a whiff of corruption.
His signature Telecom reforms transformed in India. All the current internet based entrepreneurial activity in India is because of these reforms. The new telecom policy went in to effect on Jan. 2001. There were 17 million land lines and one million mobile phones on the day the policy was announced. By the end of the first year of the policy, India still had 17 million land lines where as Mobile phone had grown to about 80 million. By the end of 2013 India had 904 million mobile numbers and only 29 million land lines. The telecom policy was developed in co-operation with Tie in Silicon Valley. Its main feature was licenses were freely given to all comers, Government had revenue share model where it got 7% of the revenue. Operators were not allowed to sit on the license and had to initiate the service within a year.
Telecom was not the only sector which was reformed under Vajpayee. He initiated the Golden Quadrilateral road building program to build expressways connecting four major metros of New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata. In addition to that he initiated Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna to build secondary connectors. Other reforms included: Airline sector, Finance Sector and Automobile Sector. He carried out the biggest privatization of the public sector also. These reforms gave Indian economy a booster shot that lasted till 2008. Annual economic growth reached almost 10%. Most of the growth came after the elections of 2004 which UPA won. Growth under UPA was mostly because what NDA had done as there were no reforms at all under UPA!
The other big bang change under NDA was India going nuclear overtly in 2008. After initial furor, world powers came to accept India as a legitimate member of the nuclear club. His foreign policy innovations included a Bus trip to Lahore and warming up towards United States. First of these backfired when Pakistan army aggressed along the LOC in J&K but the second one was rewarded handsomely with US-India civilian nuclear deal.
Vajpayee was a transformational figure. For that I rate him the best prime minister India has had. I give him 9.5 on scale of 1 to 10. The only reason I hold back half a point is his initial failure to curb Gujarat riots and his fulminations about Muslims.
“Narasimha Rao ka yehi Vaada, Baten kum, Kaam Jyaada”. This roughly translates to: Narasimha rao promises to talk less and do more. It was on a billboard that I spotted during one of my visits to India in 1993.
Narasimha Rao served as a Prime Minister of India from 1991 to 1996. No sooner he became the Prime Minister he inducted Manmohan Singh, a lifelong bureaucrat, as his finance minister.
Manmohan Singh in his first budget speech in 1991 announced a new economic policy that heralded a new direction for India. He essentially set the Industrial sector free to pursue its own priorities without having to get a license from the government. It was an almost complete renunciation of the policies pursued by various Congress party governments till then. Narasimha Rao was a quintessential congressman who had served under both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. So this change in direction was totally unexpected. There were no further changes during rest of his term. After some initial turbulence and resistance, mostly from industrialist who had enjoyed protected markets, Indian economy started to show some life and growth rate steadily picked up to unprecedented levels.
Narasimha was vilified by the party but he stood his ground. The party took the credit for the growth but never acknowledged Rao’s contribution. Manmohan Singh was cheered as the hero of the policy change.
With this one act Narasimha Rao freed up the animal spirits of Indians and India has seen almost 25 years of growth. Per capita income has grown almost 8 fold. India is now world’s fastest growing economy.
For this I rate Narasimha Rao 9 on the scale of 1 to 10.
Rajiv became the fifth Prime Minister of India in 1984 after the murder of his mother India Gandhi. He had no political experience, he was an airline pilot when he had been inducted by the party as a dynastic succession. It was a generational change in many ways. He was in his forties and grew up in independent India.